How to help your students research colleges

Deciding to attend college is one of the biggest decisions one will make in one’s lifetime. Some may wish to obtain certifications in other fields as a career path versus attending junior college, four-year colleges or universities, but the final decision will affect one’s life forever. Hence, it is a decision that is not to be taken lightly; it should be researched earnestly and thoroughly.

As a starting point, your students should think of what interests them, what makes their heart sing, so to speak, and what would be fun to do as a lifetime job. Yes, work should be fun, at least to a point, and something that makes one happy.

Then, spend time with the student talking about needs versus wants. There are many to consider.

·        Location: Does your student want to be close by or away from home?

·        Size: Would they be more comfortable in a small or large school?

·        Academics: To work in their chosen field, does your student need a master’s degree or Ph.D., or will a bachelor’s degree be their ticket to enter?

·        Cost: What is their budget and tolerance for student loans? What scholarships might be available?

·        Social scene: What kind of social environment are the student (and parents) comfortable with? Are they interested in joining a fraternity or sorority?

·        Housing: Do freshmen have to live on campus? Or maybe the teen wants to still live at home (no shame in that!) Consider the cost of each.

·        Dining: Would it be easier to eat meals on campus as part of the housing package or do they want to cook their own meals?

·        Extracurriculars: Are there clubs and organizations that will be interesting  or that will connect him or her to their future career?

·        Athletics: Could a high school athlete potentially play intercollegiate or club sports?

What are the steps to finding the best college? Here are some of the best recommendations you can offer to your school population:

1)      Start early: Freshman year is not too early for a student to start thinking about their college list

2)      Advise families to spend time with their child thinking about needs versus wants. Do any of the school choices offer the student’s preferred major, for example? What are they looking for in terms of proximity, size and setting (i.e. rural, suburban, urban)?

3)      Use that wonderful invention called the internet to kick off research. The Common Data Set Initiative (CDS) is a great place to begin searching. Almost every college publishes its Common Data Set on its website. You’ll find information about admission rates, graduation rate and persistence, student life and financial aid. To locate the CDS for a specific college, type the following into a search engine: “common data set college name school year.”

4)      Seek advice from others – from other parents of other college bound children and students from their peers who are already in college.

5)      Visit, visit, visit. Plan a summer road trip around the colleges your child is interested in. When you’ve narrowed down the list, plan visits while classes are in session. It’s the ideal way for your child to figure out if they mesh well with the culture, people and environment.

6)      Demonstrate interest: Show colleges you’re interested in them by going to college fairs, talking to admissions representatives, signing up to receive information online and by mail and interacting with them on social media.

Now that school counselors have some tips, I know you will help your students make amazing choices for the perfect college and college experience.

Joanne Leone is an advisor for  She speaks at their free workshops and writes for MCPT’s website. She earned a degree in communications and creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, California.