The college decision-making process has really changed since I was a high school student. These days, students have so many options to get the information they need to make an informed decision – from university websites to sophisticated search engines to social media. There is an endless amount of information available to students about colleges they are considering, and while this easy access to information is empowering, it can also be overwhelming. Weeding through all the college-related content out there can seem daunting, but I’d like to offer three tips that I hope can help students determine the best college for them.
- Visit. As admissions professionals, we talk a lot about the concept of “fit” when working with prospective students. We encourage students to find the school that feels right, the one where they can picture themselves living and learning for four years (at least!). The campus visit is critical to the process of determining your best fit school. There’s really no better way to understand the vibe of a campus, how the students spend their time, and what opportunities are available. In addition to a general campus tour, I would encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to tour academic facilities for their majors of interest, meet with faculty members, sit in on a class, or attend a sporting event on campus. These types of experiences will help you narrow down your list to only those colleges where you can picture yourself thriving. If you aren’t able to physically visit the school, look for virtual tour options on the college’s website.
- Pay attention to graduation and retention rates. Until the time when a student officially begins their college career, all the focus—from teachers, school counselors, friends, and many well-meaning family members—is on “getting in.” What colleges will you get into? What will your options be for the next four years? Getting in is important. But what is much more important is getting out. Higher education provides opportunities that will shape your future. The goal is to earn a degree from a college that will give you a strong foundation upon which you can build a successful career and achieve a great quality of life. A college’s graduation and retention rates provide important insight into how successful that institution has been at both helping its students feel welcomed, included, and part of a community on campus, and in helping students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need for the future. These numbers may seem like dry statistics, but I encourage you to look closely at these at every college/university you’re considering.
- Use your head, but don’t ignore your heart. The college decision-making process is full of both intellectual and emotional decisions. There are very real, very practical considerations to take into account when selecting a college—financial circumstances, the degree programs offered, location, size, etc. I think students have to be realistic about the types of colleges that they consider attending based on their individual financial and family situations, the career field they plan to pursue, and the opportunities offered by that school that will give them the best chance for an exceptional quality of life after graduating. Practicality is important, but there’s also a lot to be said for really loving the place where you attend college. We all know those people—or maybe you’re one of them; they are filled with pride when they talk about their alma mater. You can immediately tell that it holds a special place in their heart, that they love to tell people where they went to college, and that they are grateful for the ways their experience there shaped the rest of their life. Don’t be shy about seeking out alumni of the colleges you’re considering and asking them about their experiences. These types of conversations can be a great way to determine the best college for you on a practical level, but also one where you will love your experience.
One last piece of advice for all you students before I wrap this up – as you complete the college selection process, keep in mind these two words: be kind. Be kind to your parents, your family members, your friends, your teachers, your school counselors, and your coaches. Remember that they want nothing more than to support you, to see you succeed, and to help you find the college that will be the perfect fit for you.
As admissions professionals, we want the same. One of the most rewarding parts of our profession is the relationships we get to build with students and families who are facing a very overwhelming set of decisions. To be able to help a student discover that Clemson is the perfect school for them, see them thrive on campus once they enroll, and finally walk across the stage at graduation ready to take on the next phase of their life, is pretty special.
My hope for all students making their college decisions is that you will find the university that is the right fit, that you’ll make the most of your experience there, and that you’ll always look back with gratitude on how the knowledge and skills you gained at that university made a positive impact on your life.
Jim Rosemond is the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Clemson University. He’s been employed at Clemson for over 15 years with various responsibilities all in admissions. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina in Business Administration and a Master of Human Resource Development degree from Clemson University.