One of my favorite parts of youth ministry is sending graduates off to college. It’s bittersweet in a sense, because I’m sad to see kids go, but that is easily trumped by the joy that comes from watching students head off for their next big journey. Wether it’s a local community college, an Ivy league school, or a prestigious institution of higher learning like Oklahoma Christian University (Go Eagles!), college has the potential to be a pivotal time in our student’s lives. Here are a few things that I’ve tried to pass on to students and families in regards to the process of choosing a school.
- There are over 5,000 Colleges, Universities, and Community Colleges in the US alone. That number can be staggering, like drinking water from a fire hose, and can scare some people off from starting the process early. Start with narrowing down your field to a select few. There are six processing factors that I recommend to students and families when it comes to narrowing their list of potential schools. Rank these in order of importance to you and your student for a streamlined search:
- Location. Do you want to stay close to home, or head to the other side of the country? Do you want to be a road trip or a plane trip away from home? Do you prefer somewhere by the beach or near the mountains?
- Cost. What are you willing to spend on an education? Are you willing to go to a dream school and do the work for more financial aid? How much debt are you willing to take on? Is it important for you to graduate debt-free?
- Size. Do you prefer the feel of a small campus or a large campus? Do you prefer smaller classroom setting or large lecture style? Would you prefer to know everyone on campus, or have the opportunity to constantly meet new people?
- Atmosphere. Doe the school have a Christian atmosphere? Is it a party school? Is there plenty to do on, or near campus, or is there something nearby? What is the housing situation like? What kinds of activities are popular with the student body?
- Major. Are you looking for a specific major, or a school with several options? If you already have a specific career path in mind does this school offer your program? If you don’t have a major in mind, does the school have a reputation for a specific degree?
- Recruiting. Are you going to compete collegiately in a a sport? Are you a stellar musician? An actor? Are there schools vying for your attendance?
- When I was looking for a school, location was a big factor for me. Every school I applied to was more than 1,000 miles from home. Next was atmosphere. I knew I wanted to be in a Christian environment, and wanted to be active on campus. I had two majors I was interested in, so that came next, with cost, size and recruiting rounding out the list. The level of importance of these determining factors varies for every student, and may change over the course of time, but it helps to keep a clear view of what is important in mind when beginning the initial search.
- Visit as many schools as you can, even ones you are not necessarily interested in. Visiting non-recruiting schools can give you ideas on what to look for in schools you are looking towards. Also, familiarity with the questions recruiters ask, and the type of things tours show-off can help you determine what is important in your decision-making process.
- Consider this a part-time job. Routinely dedicate specific amounts of time towards the college search process. I’ve encouraged families to take a couple of hours once a week to dedicate to college related work, or a whole day out of the month.
- Start your search early. It is never too early to start saving for college, and it is never too early to start the search process. While the crux of college planning lends itself to junior and senior year of high school, taking a freshmen to a college campus to familiarize themselves with the environment can do wonders for motivation, and may take away some of the fears that come from trying to figure out what direction to head after high school.
- Ask a lot of questions. Wether it’s talking to your local guidance counselor, a college recruiter, or a family that has been through the college process, feel free to seek as much advice as you can.
- Pray. Choosing a college has the potential to be one of the biggest decisions you make in your life. I can’t imagine making that big of a decision without seeking the counsel of the Great Counselor. While you may not get the specific name of a school, humbling yourself before God and asking for wisdom in the process carries with it the promise of God’s blessing wherever you choose.
One love, one heart.