Finalizing the List of Colleges

Caitlin is a 17-year-old from Simsbury, CT. She likes to write, make things with clay, and really wants a dog. Her two favorite subjects are Art and English.


Finding a college that pleasures your teen may be easy. It has a large green, small classes, and is located in a quaint college town a few miles outside a bustling city. What more could they want? However, as the time for applications and writing essays approaches, it is important for them to re-assess the qualities they are looking for in a college and to whittle down their options to approximately 8 or 9, the suggested number by guidance counselors. These 8 or 9 colleges should contain a few reach, target, and safety schools.

Whittling down a list of forty colleges to 8 or 9 may seem like a daunting task. There are several ways of going about this, such as the ever useful pros vs. cons list. However, first it is important to view trends in the selected colleges. If most of the ones that your teen prefers tend to be liberal arts colleges, then it might be best to knock off the large, impersonal universities from the get-go. Class size, campus setting, housing options, distribution requirements, and major offerings should also be compared so that your teen gets a better sense of what he or she really wants.

Now that the list has been reduced, it is time to start more in-depth research on each school.  Look up student reviews, retention rates, prominent professors at each school, study abroad opportunities, and the unique aspects each college has to offer. If you find that one school requires all students to take three years of a language and your teen does not have a passion for this subject, it might be wise to knock that school off the list. Also, if you want your teen to receive some sort of financial aid or merit scholarship, you should look into whether a school is known for giving out generous aid.

The final step of the process is the actual tour and information session. If the school is located too far away, search on the college’s website to find the official virtual tour. While this is not nearly as good as seeing the actual campus and students, it does give an overall impression of the campus layout. Make sure to bring a notepad for taking notes during the information sessions, as admissions officers usually give an overview of the type of students they are looking for as well as testing and GPA averages. During the tour it is wise to take pictures so that you can better remember the buildings and features of the campus months later.

Even if the school seems great on paper, it is usually the tour that informs your teen whether or not they want to attend that particular school. If they cannot visualize themselves at such a college, it is wise to trust their judgment and move on. Once the list is finalized, make sure to look into testing requirements and application supplements so that by the time the application deadline rolls around, your teen is prepared and excited about his or her future. If a certain school stands out as “the best”, consider applying early decision or early action as the acceptance rates are slightly higher than regular decision. However, if financial aid is an issue, it might be better to apply regular decision so that you can compare aid packages and decide which is the best.

Remember, this process isn’t supposed to be overly stressful. If your teen gets really anxious, just remind him or her that whichever college they go to is not the be-all-end-all. Instead, they should just worry about attending a college that makes them happy and helps them to reach their full potential.

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