Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6
College…I can’t even believe I’m at a point where I need to say that word. My oldest just finished her junior year so, we have her for one more year then she will be going off to college. We’ve been talking about college for quite a while now, in terms of things she should do to better her chances at getting a scholarship and stand out from the crowd.
Things have started to get real over the last year as we began looking at colleges within a few hours of home. The more we’ve talked about where she would like to go to college, the further the search has taken us. After our Spring Break trip to South Carolina last year, she decided she would really like to look into colleges out there, so we’ve been gearing up for a 10-12 day trip to look at colleges in North and South Carolina. We will spend 5 of those days looking at 7 colleges with some side trips to visit family (Aunt Tonya is taking her senior pictures), go to the beach and go on some hikes in the Upstate. We decided we needed to try to get a little bit of fun in there for her little brother! (Read my next blog, College Tourapalooza, to see how it all turned out).
Narrowing the search down has been a little challenging…there are a lot of colleges to consider. After looking at tons of colleges and coming back around to some of the same ones, asking the same questions, we decided we had to get a little more organized with our research. We started a spreadsheet and Makayla began listing all of the colleges she thought she might be interested in and made columns to track all of the information we wanted to compare. We used www.niche.com to compare the schools and she entered data into our spreadsheet like: overall grade, academics, dorms, student life, safety, etc. Niche was a good resource to be able to gather a lot of information from one place.
Then we needed to start focusing in on which schools offered the most for her so it was time to ask some questions about what was most important. Here are some of the questions to ask to help narrow down the search:
1. What area of study are you interested in? Makayla wants to be a pediatric oncologist or neonatologist so a school with a good science department is important.
2. What size school are you looking for? Makayla really doesn’t know, she doesn’t’ seem to think it matters. I personally think she would be happier with a smaller school because she likes to build relationships and it seems like smaller schools would make that easier. We’ve picked a variety of schools from really small to medium sized so maybe by the end of the trip, she’ll know what she likes.
3. Are you looking for a state school or private? From what we’ve seen, I think we would prefer a private school but it really comes down to price. Since we are only looking at out of state schools this summer, tuition isn’t really a factor because private schools and out of state tuition for state schools is pretty similar.
4. Would you prefer a Christian or secular school? I think we would all prefer a Christian school but we certainly won’t rule a school out just because it isn’t Christian as long as it looks like there is an opportunity for her to connect with other Christian students and she isn’t going to get punched in the face for expressing her values and beliefs.
5. What price tag are you looking for? Free would be nice, thank you! Since Makayla wants to go to med school, we are stressing to her the importance of getting through her undergrad with as little debt as possible. A major factor that we focused on when narrowing down our list of schools was whether or not they offer full scholarships and if she meets the minimum criteria to qualify for an interview.
6. What climate or geographic location are you looking for? We live in Central Illinois so neither our climate nor our geographic location is desirable, unfortunately. While on one hand, I really like the idea of her going to school close to home, I also understand her desire to look outside of Illinois at schools that have a better climate and have mountains and the ocean nearby. I think this is a really good time to have your child evaluate where they want to live and work after college. I would guess that attending college in the area they think they want to settle in makes it likelier they will get to do that.
Once we answered the important questions and had our spreadsheet all filled in, it was time to start narrowing it down. We started looking through colleges and eliminating schools that didn’t tick most of the boxes of what we are looking for in a school and we’ve narrowed it down to 4 schools in North Carolina and 3 in South Carolina. The school sizes range from <1000 students to >11000, they all appear to have a good science program and all offer the potential for at least a full tuition scholarship.
To help us keep things straight on the trip, because I know 7 schools in 5 days will start to get a little blurry, we made a binder that has some basic information on each school. We also made a list of questions to ask 1) the admissions counselor 2) our tour guide and 3) a professor if we get the chance to speak with one. Hopefully this will ensure we get answers to all of our important questions and they can go into the binder with the information for each college. The goal is to take plenty of pictures on campus and take some notes right after the visit while everything is fresh in our minds.
Since we are looking at colleges so far from home, Makayla decided to make a student resume and get some letters of recommendations from teachers and administration so she’ll have them on hand if she is able to talk to an admissions counselor one on one. Our hope is that after visiting 7 colleges on this trip along with the 3 in-state schools we’ve visited, she will have a really good idea of which colleges might be a good fit for her.
When it comes right down to it, our advice for her is to pick the school that is the best value. We would love for her to get a full ride so she isn’t saddled with debt before she even starts medical school, but we also want her to be happy and get a good education so she’ll have to carefully weigh all of those factors. We are all very excited for the trip and optimistic about the outcome.
Do you have any great tips to help us on our college search?