Education guide 2016: What steps are key in choosing the right college?
February 12, 2016 12:00 AM
Education Planning Guide
By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Choosing the right college is easy for some and confusing for others, but experts agree it’s one of the most important decisions -- and many times the first important life decision -- students will face.
“Choosing colleges that are a good fit academically, financially and socially will hopefully mean that the student spends the next four years of their life in the ’right’ college environment, happy with their choice, happy with the selection of majors offered, happy with the campus vibe, without having to transfer after their first year,” said Connie Pollack, a college admissions consultant from Squirrel Hill.
“The idea is to determine up front what colleges will be a good fit so you don't have to transfer to another school, transition to a new place and new students, and risk losing the credits that you have earned that year,” she said.
Ms. Pollack is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, a nonprofit trade association for counselors in private practice.
Some families hire consultants, such as Ms. Pollack, to help choose and prepare for college, with fees that range as little as a few hundred dollars for a couple of consultations, to several thousand dollars for an array of college-preparation services.
Her best advice for choosing the right school echoes that of the College Board and other organizations devoted to collegiate services.
“Typically, I will give the student and parent a self-assessment survey so I can have two different perspectives of where they are at the start,” Ms. Pollack said.
The top things to consider are:
• Location -- do you want to be close enough to do laundry and have meals at home or would you prefer to visit home only on holidays?
• Size -- smaller campuses have fewer services and activities but larger colleges have bigger class sizes and less individual attention.
• Majors -- what schools offer the major or activities you are most interested in?
• Cost -- No matter what the published tuition rate is, experts say students rarely pay full freight. Private colleges can be among the most expensive, but they often have the most generous scholarship opportunities.
• Type -- Do you want to attend a two- or four-year college? Experts say not to discount community colleges. Credits from community colleges in Pennsylvania transfer automatically to all schools in the state system. They can also be a good cost-saving measure for students unsure of what they want to study.
It’s important to take the time to research choices, and it is often helpful to come up with a three-part list of safety, target and dream schools, Ms. Pollack said.
The safety schools are those which the student feels confident that he or she will be admitted easily; the target schools are those where the student would be happy but is unsure of acceptance; while the dream schools represent the students’ ideal, but unlikely to accept the student.
Ms. Pollack said she sometimes finds students or parents have unrealistic expectations.
“You can have the brightest of students with great test scores, and they assume they will get admitted into a top-tier school based on their grades and scores,” she said. “But that isn’t the reality at all. Even if you have the best grades and test scores -- that doesn’t mean you’ll get admitted.”
Ms. Pollack, who has visited and researched more than 200 colleges, advises students to visit some of their top choices, ask questions and meet informally with admissions personnel.
“If students have taken the time to evaluate their needs, have researched different schools of interest, have visited several colleges and know what each school offers and what it will cost to attend, before they enroll, it can save them money and time and pave the road for a memorable college experience,” she said.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.
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