Will she be hanging out with the Nittany Lion?
Earlier this week in How Do I Choose the Best College, I explained that this week’s analysis was focused on college decisions. Today we are going to look at using a decision-making framework as a way to compare a student’s ranked goals with a number of college options. (If you would like to review the basics of how the framework is used, check out Making Smart Decisions – A Short Version of the Process!). The goal is to maximize satisfaction with the college decision, while minimizing regrets.
I’ve changed the title of the decision from “best” college to “right” college for Part 2. The right college is acceptable, but not necessarily optimal. It is a good fit. It may not meet most of the students’ wants, but it does meet the extremely and very important goals the student (and possibly the parent) created!
The Internet provides students with an overwhelming amount of information to consider in their college search. My hope is that the decision-making process and framework will be a tool to help students and families better manage the information.
I am not going to talk about the quality of the information though. I would suggest that you exercise due diligence on any details or statistics that are really meaningful to your most important college decision goals.
We are facing college decisions with both of my children this year. This week we are looking at my daughter’s graduate school decision process. She will be a senior in college this year (after finishing her undergraduate program in 3 years).
We chose to do graduate school visits and begin organizing her plan this summer. She has a very busy senior year ahead with challenging classes and leadership of two organizations. There won’t be much free time on her calendar! So please keep in mind that this analysis is a work in progress since she won’t make her final decision until late this fall or early next spring.
My daughter’s decision question is “What graduate program will help me reach my personal & career goals?” With more reflection, we may alter that question – so this is just a draft for now.
Before listing her ranked goals (factors), I thought it would be interesting to list a variety of factors students and parents consider when looking at colleges. Some may be very important to one person and not at all important to another. Here they are in no particular order (if you can think of others, please suggest them in the comments!)
Cost, Scholarships/financial aid, Distance from home, Setting (urban, suburban, rural), Majors/programs, Activities, Sports, Family tradition, Campus visit/overnight, Academic reputation/rigor, Diversity of population, Job placement rates, Strength/Size of Alumni networks, Size of school/Number of students, Communication from school faculty/admissions/students, Internship options, Amenities, Party-school reputation (or not!), Sororities/Fraternities, Accreditation, Study-abroad programs, Class sizes, Faculty/Student ratio
Here are my daughter’s ranked graduate school goals (at this point in time):
- M.S. Forensic Science Program (accredited) with multiple options & possible specializations including Research, Forensic Chemistry, Toxicology (Extremely Important)
- Minimize cost – Tuition/living expenses, Available scholarships, Part-time jobs (Teaching/Graduate Assistant, Research, other) (Very Important)
- Strong job placement record and Alumni networking opportunities (Very Important)
- Minimize driving distance from home (Important)
- Campus/Area features – prefers suburban, “medium” size, diverse population, variety of activities, events, concerts, clubs, community events (Somewhat Important)
In the comments from the first post on this topic, some of you noted the “drama” and over-complicated plans that some people create in the college decision process. My daughter’s undergraduate college decision had little drama and few complications. Our goal is to go down that same path for this decision as well!
Some students may have many more goals (factors) and more college options that they want to include as part of the decision. That is fine and using the framework will make it much easier to do!
My daughter spent time online looking at all of the accredited programs within a 5-hour driving distance from our home. There were only a few options with the graduate major she is considering. We then took a trip in early May to visit three schools – Arcadia University, Penn State University (University Park campus), and University at Albany (SUNY) to help her learn more about each college and program.
Or will she go to Fountain Day in Albany?
We had great visits at all three colleges and we had the pleasure of meeting with admissions representatives or department members too. These visits were incredibly important to my daughter and each school made a great impression. We felt that they were very honest about their programs and what they could offer in terms of her career goals. The programs had many similarities but also some key differences that we never would have known from reading their websites.
Here is the results table at this point (remember that it is a work in progress…)
Over the summer she is going to look online at a few more colleges that are just beyond the 5-hour driving distance from home. She wants to make sure she isn’t missing out on a great opportunity! But we will only make visits if there is something really outstanding (in comparison to the three schools we already visited).
I thought I would also include an online college search tool I found. I added the three colleges we visited to this tool:
The results were interesting but there were discrepancies between some of the data I found on the college websites and on data on this tool. The tool also provides very limited information. There are many websites and comparison tools that can be used to help give you more information, but I would use them with the same caution I described above in terms of exercising due diligence about the information provided.
Choosing a college is one of the biggest (and earliest) life decisions many people face and I believe it is a decision that is worthy of a process (or at least a spreadsheet of some type!) If you use a spreadsheet or some other way of organizing the data, consider ranking the goals (factors) – that might be one new thing that helps your process.
I hope you will follow along as we go through this fall and “work the process” with both kids. It is certainly an exciting time for our family!
Do you have kids heading off to college this fall or are you going back to school? How did you choose the college? Did you follow a process? Can you think of other factors people consider when looking at colleges? Thanks for anything you can share!
Maybe she’ll get coffee and study in a castle!
Nittany Lion Picture Credit: SuziFenton@freeimages.com
Albany Fountain Picture Credit: DeeThomas@freeimages.com
Arcadia Castle Picture Credit: My kid 🙂