Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some College Search Musings

Great presentation by MHS Guidance staff at the Junior/Senior Parent Breakfast earlier this month! It led to some personal observations as our family goes through the process for the third time:

·      *    Setting realistic expectations early is really important (which is why discouraging a top pick can be useful although sometimes challenging). What can the family afford, and if your child gets into his/her top pick with no aid, is that still a go? Are you comfortable having the child a plane ride away or are you happier with closer geographic proximity? Do you have strong opinions on attendance at a very large vs. very small school? Have the discussion and set the boundaries early so you can focus on the schools that meet your family’s needs – and resist applying to any school where your child truly would not go. Helping students find good quality matches and supporting their understanding that they can be happy and successful at any school to which they apply is helpful to the wallet and the psyche.

·      * Colleges and universities are businesses that employ adults. Their number one goal is to stay in business and they do that by selecting students who will faithfully pay tuition, become engaged enough and be academically successful enough to stay and graduate, and ultimately bring honor to the school’s name (and hopefully donate!) post-graduation. Keeping in mind the college’s interests while thinking about how your child can be successful may be a useful thought process. Is the tuition (along with any financial aid) truly affordable without sinking you or your child with debt? Is the school rigorous enough to challenge your child to think in new ways, but not so rigorous that he/she would really struggle academically? Does the school offer high-quality courses in which your child is interested as well as the kinds of extra-curriculars that will keep him/her engaged? How effective is the career office and alumni network? Exploring a school’s characteristics (in books like Princeton Review or Peterson’s, or in web databases like collegedata.com or Naviance) will give you a sense of who they are and what they value.

·      *  Some opinions on acceptances: 1. If your family funded the <fill in college’s newest big building here>, you’re in; 2. If you’re an international student who can pay full ride and the school wants to diversify its student body in that way, you’re a good bet; 3. If you play the tuba and all the tuba players in the band graduated, your chances just improved; 4. If your academic record is trending consistently upward, even if freshman year wasn’t stellar, your chances improve; 5. If 60% of the student body is girls (not uncommon these days – especially at medium rigor/small/liberal arts schools), boys may be judged more favorably so the school can achieve a more even gender mix; 6. If you meet all the school’s academic standards on paper, but a whole bunch of kids with a very similar profile applied and were accepted before you, you may be wait listed or denied. My point? There are many great schools out there where your child can and will be successful – just because he/she was denied at a school doesn’t necessarily mean he/she couldn't have been accepted or wouldn’t do well there – it just means that while there are many things in a student’s control, there are many others that aren’t.

While the college search is time-consuming and a little anxiety provoking, it’s a wonderful way to spend quality time getting to know your teenager better (even though he/she may sleep for awhile on those car trips!). Each and every child is unique and special, and helping them tease out their authenticity in preparation for their next big adventure is incredibly exciting. Best of luck to all!