Ep.30 – The College Planning Process Part 2: Finding the Best College Fit for Your Kid(s)

Paul FennerPodcast

best college fit college planning

Do you know the right questions to ask to find the best college fit? Part 2 in our college planning series podcast will help you determine what to look for when evaluating colleges.

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Research does suggest that you get out of college what you put into it learning-wise.  When it comes to the skills required to survive and thrive in the workplace and pivot when necessary—thinking, processing, communicating—there seems to be no guarantee that the college experience will be able to deliver.

David Coleman, who runs the College Board, which administers the SAT, wrote in the Atlantic, “Finding great teachers and insisting on learning from them is a form of resistance.  You must push the rules and the system. One of the most misleading things we say in education is that a good school will ‘give you an excellent education.’ A great education is never given—it is taken.”

This highlights the need for finding a mentor early on in your college experience who can help guide you to find your way.  A topic that I touched on in Part I of this college planning series.

Questions to Ask Schools About Learning Development

When it comes to trying to determine how much learning may happen while you are in school, here are some related questions that you should ask when meeting with schools to find your best college fit:

  • Can you please describe how your institutional research office or the individual academic departments measure progress in learning?
  • Do you attempt to measure how much time students are studying outside the classroom? If not, why not?
  • Have you quantified the average number of pages or words professors assign them to read and write and compare them with peer schools? Or tried to measure the quantity and quality of feedback that they receive from teachers?
  • If you don’t think these are useful measures, what measures do you use?
  • What will your professors do here to make my child’s life harder?

Blunt Questions for Your Kids

There are a couple of blunt questions we ought to make our kids answer repeatedly in the years leading up to college. The answers to these questions can help determine the best college fit for your child.

  1. Are you more likely to skip a class if you’re just a face in the crowd? 
  2. When you enter a dining hall, do you want everyone to know you, some people to know you, or no one at all to know you?

These two questions cut to the heart of the social anxiety that is a natural part of any transition to college.  It may become overwhelming if your school doesn’t match your answer to these questions.

Does a School Align with the Job Market

Schools don’t get to decide what the job market values and neither do students. Currently, we are working within a system where a lot of what professors teach doesn’t match up neatly or obviously with what employers need.

Again, this  why young people must develop their thinking, processing, and communication skills, which can be translated into any field or career.  It’s potentially not so much about what you know but how you go about figuring things out.  A former teacher and now consultant, Sandi Hodde, discusses critical skills that high school students are missing in this podcast episode.

You will need to size up this potential at the colleges you are visiting, which should be a critical part of your search process if you’re tempted to spend a whole lot of money for an undergraduate education.

If your child has a passion for a particular topic, have him or her scan the research interests of faculty members and email them to set up a meeting or a phone call. How (or if) they respond should reveal a lot about a place and how it views its undergraduates. It’s also helpful to determine where recent majors applied for graduate school and where they got in (and were rejected).

Transfer Process

  • Students must stay on top of every possible transfer permutation, although many community college advisers are there to help.
  • This means figuring out a shortlist of transfer schools and potential majors.
  • From there, begin developing and maintaining relationships from the beginning of community college with three people: an adviser at the community college, a transfer admissions representative at the intended four-year college, and a faculty member in the major department. They can help make sure that all the community college courses taken will qualify for that major.
  • It is essential to check in with all of them before every registration period to see if any of the rules have changed.

Sometimes, a community college could provide the best college fit in the beginning. I had a conversation with Noelle Essig, a college & career counselor in a Metro Detroit public school system. We discussed the pros and cons of students starting at a community college.  Students and families can save thousands of dollars, especially during the age of COVID, where many schools have gone to remote learning.

Athletic Scholarships

According to 2019 NCAA data:

  • Nearly 8 million high school students play sports.
  • 480,000, play in college.
  • Only a little over 180,000 of those athletes get scholarships, and most do not get a full ride.

This means that 2.25% of high school athletes get any discounts based on their sports skills, and schools don’t necessarily guarantee that the scholarship will last until graduation.

Moreover, many schools in Division I, the most competitive group of schools with the most money to offer, are state universities where any partial scholarship merely offsets the higher out-of-state student price tag.

This does not mean that schools don’t find it in their financial aid budgets to find merit aid for those student-athletes they may highly covet.  They may call it something other than an athletic scholarship, especially for Division II & III schools.

End of Tour Questions

When your tour of any given school or your student-led group information session comes to an end, ask your hosts the following questions:

  1. Who are your three closest friends here?
  2. How did you find them? Was it easy?
  3. How are they different from your high school friends?

See if they light up immediately or struggle to answer.

Ron Lieber

The Price You Pay for College

The College Planning Process Part 1: Cruel Optimism