Understand What Makes a “Good” College for Your Student

It’s about more than bragging rights.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

In talking with parents of high school juniors and seniors lately, I’ve been asked what makes a “good” college. The expected answer is ranking, selectivity and buzz, the last one usually a result of the first two. The truth is, it’s not that simple. But it doesn’t have to be overly complicated either.

The question parents should be asking is, “What is a good school for my student?”

Rankings use too many subjective categories, as I explained in a previous post on how to read them. Selectivity basically means that too many kids apply, including well-qualified students who will not be accepted simply because too many kids applied. And buzz comes from a good PR machine, representing the ranking institutions and the very selective colleges.

I am not saying top-ranked, selective colleges aren’t worth their money. They provide a great education and can open doors to jobs for grads based on their reputations. But the majority of college applicants will not end up attending these colleges. Instead, they will get an excellent education somewhere else.

So how do you find a “good” school that’s right for your son or daughter? Read on.

Academic options A good college should offer the major or, more importantly, the majors your student has shown an interest in. Now more than ever students choose to dual major or take one or more minors to round out their education and give them better job prospects.

A student interested in environmental science probably won’t receive the education he’s looking for at a college that offers only the basic natural sciences like biology and chemistry, although that school might be perfect for someone planning to attend med school after graduation. Pre-med students should also look at the number of science graduates who continue on to medical school, and where they are accepted.

Some colleges promote their pre-law program. Sounds impressive, except there isn’t a major requirement for getting into law school. History, psychology, business, etc. all work for someone interested in becoming a lawyer.

A student who wants to be an engineer, but isn’t sure in which specialty, will learn more about her options at a college that offers 10 engineering majors compared to one with less than five.

If your teenager has a strong interest in the arts, but isn’t sure he wants to pursue it as a major, a good college for him is one that allows non-majors to take arts courses.

Outside the classroom A good college should allow your teen to continue her interest in sports, cooking, singing, or discover new ones in mobile app production, fashion design, fitness. Explore what clubs and activities are open to all students.

Many Division I schools offer what are called “club” sports. A big step above intramurals, these teams play against other colleges and provide the same training and competiveness many kids loved about playing varsity sports in high school. They also create an opportunity to build or strengthen a student’s time management skills.

What about research? Does the college offer undergraduate students the opportunity to assist professors in their research to learn and gain valuable experience in their area of study?

Career guidance A good college should have a strong career services office that assists undecided undergrads in finding a major and career path that best suits their interests and skill set, and can help students obtain internships as early as sophomore year. Internships help students discover careers and gain experience necessary to get a job after graduation. Smart planning can allow a student to major in an area that makes him a knowledgeable, curious and interesting person and intern in another area that will also lead him to the career he really wants.

Also important is a career services office that develops relationships with employers in and out of the local area, helping place graduates in jobs partially based on the college’s solid reputation.

The social scene A good college is filled with a mix of kids creating an environment that helps your student grow, but doesn’t leave her feeling as if she doesn’t fit in anywhere. In other words, a teenager who likes having one or two close friends probably won’t be interested in a campus where the majority of students are involved in Greek life, and a joiner won’t like a college with few clubs or teams.

A good college should be a place to open your mind, to embrace diversity on all levels and to get a taste for the real world. It should be a chance to gain life experience, to challenge yourself to explore new interests and to learn as much as you can.

What do you think makes a good college? Share your comments below.

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One Response to Understand What Makes a “Good” College for Your Student

  1. Pingback: News on College Admissions and College Life, Late Fall Edition | Parents' Guide to the College Puzzle

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