One of the most common questions we address in our college counseling office is, “which colleges?” Our seniors are considering which colleges they will submit applications to, and our juniors are considering which colleges they will visit in anticipation of deciding which colleges they will apply to. Ultimately, every student is looking for a college that will be just the right fit from an academic, social, spiritual and financial standpoint. It’s a process that takes time, research and soul-searching for students and parents alike.
We find ourselves echoing the same advice time and time again as students navigate this process: create options. When it comes to decision time in the spring of senior year, we want our students to be positioned with multiple good options for their college plans. As they visit colleges in their junior year and finalize their application list in their senior year, we remind them that every possible type of college they might want to attend should be represented in their list. Making a final decision on which college to attend is the last step. Until then, creating options is the name of the game.
So which options should students consider? Take a look at these categories of colleges:
Public and Private Colleges
The main difference between public and private colleges is cost. While it is certainly possible for some students to see the cost of a private college become equal to or less than the cost of a public college after need-based and merit-based financial aid is awarded, for most students the in-state public college will be the most affordable option. For that reason, we recommend that students add one in-state public college to their list. We also recommend that families complete the Net Price Calculator for any college to get an estimate of what it will actually cost to attend that college, rather than relying on the initial sticker price. You might be surprised at how affordable a private college can be!
Distance from Home
Some students are eager for a grand adventure in a new region of the country or even the world. Others would rather be within an easy driving distance of home, able to stay connected to younger siblings perhaps or to get a home cooked meal from mom. There’s a lot of variety in students’ preferences on how far from home they would like their college to be. Our advice? If you want to go far from home for college, apply primarily to colleges in the region you prefer but also add one or two options closer to home just in case you change your mind when it’s actually time to commit to a college. And if you’re focusing your college search on options within a few hours of home, maybe add one that’s farther away to create an option to stretch yourself? You might find yourself more ready for that than you expect.
Busy city center or small college town? Or perhaps you’d prefer something in between, with a college located in a residential suburb of a larger city? The options abound! Once again, we recommend that students give each type of college a fair shake as they research options.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the various sizes of a college campus. Larger colleges offer more of everything - more majors, more variety, more people, etc. Smaller colleges offer the personal, individual touch where students are known by their professors and their classmates. Medium sized colleges straddle the gaps between both, offering some of the benefits of both a large and small campus. If students are going to be stuck on preferring one particular type of college, it’s usually this category where they’ll have a strong preference. But whichever one you prefer, we believe it’s best to entertain options from another size too. Give some serious thought to the benefits of each and visit colleges of each type to really consider where you will thrive the most.
Christian and Secular Colleges
Some students are looking for a religiously diverse experience in college and want to be exposed to a number of viewpoints. Meanwhile, students attending a Christian college have the opportunity to continue studying theology and religion, to learn all subjects from a Christian point of view, to be mentored by Christian professors and to connect with a Christian student body. For students who want to continue their Christian education, it makes sense to have at least one Christian college on their list of options.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the options available at Christian colleges, Charlotte Christian School is serving as the host site for a Christian College Fair on Monday, Sept. 27 from 6 - 8 p.m. where more than 30 colleges from around the country will be on hand to describe their programs. This is a great opportunity to identify a Christian college to add to your list. For more information, including a list of colleges that will be in attendance, please visit My Blueprint Story.
It’s all about creating options. Consider each type of college and think carefully about which ones might appeal to you. Make sure that each of those types of colleges is reflected on your list, starting with the list of colleges you visit and continuing with the list of colleges you apply to. Need help identifying colleges of any type that might be a fit for you? Contact your college counselor for help; we would love to suggest some ideas.
Director of College Counseling