Family Magazine

The Conundrum of College Decision-making

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
College acceptances and rejections are almost here and the deadline for making college choice decisions is coming. So I wanted to offer a little advice based on a conversation I had recently with a parent whose daughter is transferring after finishing her freshman year.
The school she chose to attend last May was in a warm climate, which she loved, was a college that has become one of the "it" colleges over the last 5 years, and had that cache and vibe that both parents and seniors in high school respond to. Pretty campus, small but not to small, 5,000 students, good program in the academic area she "thought" might become her major. Notice I put the "thought" in quotations. That is because many, many kids start off with an interest in one area, and when they graduate are in a completely different major. Which is great by the way. That actually is what the college experience is all about. Trying out different identities, different interests, different kinds of relationships, and different academic areas. OK so what went wrong. Turns out the school was a complete mismatch.
While the "big picture" of this college fit the bill, the actual day to day of college life did not. This is a school where the "Greek Life" is king. Everybody pledges a sorority or a fraternity, or if that doesn't interest you, than there are academic clubs that function like them. These clubs unite people who share a similar major. You live together on the same dorm floor, study together and party together. This is a college divided. So... if you don't get into the frat or sorority of your choice, and you haven't yet settled on a major, or if you have, and you don't particularly want to surround yourself by your classmates 24/7 you are kind of left out in this college. And all this happens by the middle of your freshman year.
This left this student with few people to hang with. Though she had made friends in her dorm, many of them pledged or joined something and they were otherwise engaged. She didn't get into the sorority of her choice. Also turns out living on a beautiful campus, in the middle of nowhere left few alternatives for leisure non-partying activities. No real town to go to, go to a movie, take a walk, or go to eat. Pretty place, but very isolated.
The areas you and your senior should be discussing now are not academics, but college life. Because honestly, this will be the make it or break it of settling into and loving their new college life. Here are some important questions to ask, and I advise making sure your son/daughter calls and speaks to at least two kids who are completing their own freshman year for their perspective. I know admissions offices will be happy to  furnish your teen with students who have offered to talk to incoming freshman.
Questions:
  • Does size matter? Yes it does. 
  • Does rural VS urban VS suburban matter? Yes it does. How does your teen like to spend their free time, and does this school offer those chances to do what they like to do. 
  • What happens if they don't pledge a sorority or fraternity or do not get into one they want, or aren't interested in that whole joining thing, what do these students do and where do they go for their fun? 
  • What do people do on the weekends? At the college I teach at, many of the students go home on the weekends, and those left have nothing really to do. My school is in the suburbs, and most students do not head into Boston, and there is NOTHING to do in the town  where the college is located At first glance they thought that small and suburban was good, but now they feel the limitation.
This choice-making time is all about asking the detail questions, which your college-bound senior will not like to do. Teens look at the big picture, and have little patience for the smaller stuff. You will need to help them do that. It can make the difference between the phone calls you get from happy college freshman or miserable ones. Which call would you rather get?

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