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Planning out a list of colleges
Question: I am trying to come up with a college list for my son who is a junior. Can you give me any ideas of resources that I could use?
Answer: There is a large amount of material that is available to you both online and in print to help with this search. You will want to begin a dialogue with your son about the specifics that he might be interested in, such as the size of the school, its location, academic offerings, religious orientation, characteristics of the student body and his academic interests. While most students do not have a set career path mapped out in high school, it is a good idea for your son to think about his interests and aptitudes both in and out of the school environment. I think it is very important not to get too hung up on the prestige of a particular school or its cost, as he might qualify for financial aid. More importantly, have your son consider whether or not this is a school environment that best suits his learning style and where he will be able to get good grades and academic and career counseling support. I would also look closely at schools that would be a good fit for your student socially, and if the schools on your list have the activities that he wishes to pursue and a student body that he will feel comfortable with while at the same time offering enough diversity to allow him to grow.
There are some great books such as the Fiske Guide to Colleges, Princeton Review of the Best 366 Colleges, The College Board Handbook, as well as the Book of Majors and Barons Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges. My personal favorite is The Insiders Guide to Colleges, which is written every year by students at Yale. I find that this guide allows students to assess what schools are really like from a students point of view, which is not always as easy to ascertain with the other guides. I am also partial to the Peterson and Fiske guides, as I find it very helpful to look at their ideas for similar schools that your son might consider once he has narrowed his choices down to colleges that meet his specified criteria and the likelihood of his being admitted.
A downside to these guides is that they only address about 10 percent of colleges in the country. You might need to peruse a more comprehensive guide such as the U.S. News Ultimate College Guide or Petersons Four Year Colleges, which give general information about the programs offered, the size of the student body, criteria for admission and cost.
You need not leave the Island to find these books, as I have found them at Island Books, which also has a broad selection of other college books that address more specific needs such as schools for students with learning disabilities or those interested in performing arts.
You can also go online to sites that offer college planning, such as www.collegeboard.com, www.princetonreview.com and www.usnews.com, to complete their free college searches. There are other Web sites that describe clusters of colleges usually, small liberal art schools such as www.ctcl.co (Colleges that Change Lives) and www.coplac.org (Council on Public Liberal Arts Colleges).
Most high schools have a career center or counseling office that houses catalogues from many of the popular schools around the country. It is also a good idea to write for information from colleges in regions of the country where your son might be considering, as they will happy to send you a variety of informational material or their viewbook. Many schools are eliminating paper and only feature their course catalog online. If your son is interested in specific aspects of a school, such as their sports programs or a particular academic field, be sure to ask for information to be sent to you in those areas as well. Should you find that you are not interested in a school after you have researched it and have been sent a catalogue, you might want to donate it to your school counseling office, as it seems wasteful to throw away the piles of informational materials that will come your way.
Summer is a great time for your son to independently begin this search online and visit schools in the region if only to have him begin sorting out for himself what type of environment he feels most comfortable in. The more your son begins to take ownership of the process, the easier it will be for him to embrace the application process and find a school that will meet his needs and preferences.
Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an Independent College Consulting Practice (www.thecollegesource.org). She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.