Decisions, Decisions: Figuring Out the College Fit
It’s that time of year when college-bound seniors must make their decisions. Some have received multiple offers, and others have more limited choices. Regardless, decisions must be made. For those who are choosing this pathway, here are some guidelines for parents that may be helpful:
- Keep the significance of this decision in perspective. It will be a learning experience no matter what, but it is changeable. Interest is an important component of learning and they may become curious about a field that is not taught at their initial college and want to change directions. Many students transfer or take breaks during their time in college. Some leave to explore other pathways for a multitude of reasons ranging from lack of motivation to financial constraints. In our modern era, there is no age limit on getting a degree so it can be pursued again at any time.
- The responsibility for the decision belongs to the student. They are the ones who will need to live with their choice and they will invest themselves more fully if they are the ones who make it. If we don’t want a child who is dependent on us for the rest of their lives, this is an important place to start. If there is any doubt about whether they are capable of making this decision, it might be worth considering a gap year to allow time for maturity and growth in decision-making skills.
- Ask your child to list the three things they hope to get out of their college experience. Don’t be surprised if their focus is different from yours. They may care more about Greek life or football games than course offerings. If this is so, they will need to learn to balance academics and social life. One can feed the other. My daughters all prioritized social experiences over academic endeavors in the early years of college. I put grade point average requirements in place to ensure that their studies were always considered, but let them learn to manage their time.
- Have them compare their college options to their prioritized list. Let them argue for and against each one. Have them describe how they see themselves fitting into the school’s culture, location, size, and offerings. This involves having them focus on figuring out where they can belong as they are, not where they will have to mold themselves to fit in. It doesn’t matter if it was a great fit for grandma or their best friend; it matters if it is a fit for them.
- Keep parental emotions in check. This is a time of great uncertainty and sending the child we have nurtured into the great unknown can be hard. We need to make sure we have supportive adult networks around us so our angst doesn’t fall on our college-bound seniors. They are under tremendous stress already with high school graduation, leaving family and friends, and saying goodbye to childhood.
College is an expensive decision and not to be taken lightly. The “right college” is always about fit. There is no pixie dust bestowed on a student by their attendance at a particular college that will ensure their success in life, especially in our changing world. I tell my children, “trust that you’re always where you’re supposed to be” and change course if you need to. This is the reality of life in an uncertain world. Making decisions about how best to choose based on their values and priorities is an important life skill. It is what makes life meaningful.