Focus on Fit, Not Rank
Parents I speak to often ask “What’s the best university to study engineering?” or “Where is the best place for my daughter to study biomedicine?” There are many ways to answer this question. One could look at rankings from U.S. News and World Report, or from Princeton Review, for example. Those would provide objective answers based on the earning of students after college, or on the research prowess of a university, or the size of their endowment. But the answer I always give is: “It depends on your child.” I tell them to focus on fit, not rank.
30% of all students leave university after freshman year, and if you think this is a phenomenon restricted to low-income and first-generation students with worries about money or a lack of family support, ask your friends and neighbors. You’ll find many kids you know who come home after one or two years at school, finding the university they have chosen is a poor fit.
So if you’re a parent thinking about your teen’s college education, or a teen starting college planning, here are some tips to help you focus on fit, and find the right school for you or your child.
Tips to Find a Great Fit College or University
- Learn about yourself first. If you’ve spent your school years in small schools with close-knit communities, did you like that experience? If your high school was huge, how did that feel? One of the biggest determinants of fit is the size of the university. A student who thrives at a small school like Harvey Mudd College is unlikely to do well at a giant school like UCLA.
- Speak to your school counselor or admissions coach. Be clear about your religious beliefs, your cultural and political affiliations, and your need for discipline and structure. A student who’d thrive at a Catholic, service-oriented university like Notre Dame might not do as well at a large public school like the University of Illinois.
- Interview with the college admissions office, and ask questions about the specific academic program you’re considering. Is the curriculum project-based or course-based? Is it integrated? Does it offer opportunities for undergraduate internships? Is the academic culture competitive or supportive? Different students thrive under different situations, so be honest with yourself.
- Be honest about money, and consider it in your college search. One of the biggest reasons students drop out is because college costs are unaffordable. So consider merit aid and scholarships as ways to help defray the costs, and ask questions about ancillary costs (travel, books, food).
Focusing on fit rather than rank can be hard, as at many high schools, there is intense competition among families for bragging rights. But university is a stepping stone to adulthood, so this is a great time to remember it’s not about how your child compares to some other child, but rather whether they will learn and thrive.
This article is part four of a five-part series. Part five is at this link!