College in Perspective: Introduction

In the US, attending college has become nearly an entry ticket into middle class life for young people. Many jobs that were accessible to people with a high school diploma fifty years ago now require a college (or at least community college) diploma. College graduates have more career opportunities, more earning potential, and are even more likely to have health insurance. But college is not for everyone and it might not be for everyone right after high school. And while college is an important goal for most, it is very common for decisions and feelings about the college application process to be focused on many of the wrong considerations. We’ll explain what we mean a little later.

It is important to be thoughtful about whether or not college attendance fits with your child’s personal and career goals. Someone interested in work as an electrician, for example, will not really need to go to college. A technical training program may be much better. If your child is hoping for a career as a chef or actor, it might be a trickier decision. There are culinary colleges and drama programs that are based in colleges and these programs often will teach many skills that very well may improve chances of success in these areas and will also make it easier if your child changes her mind. But many people who have become successful chefs and actors have not attended college. This is the sort of decision to discuss with a high school counselor.

You should also think about and discuss with your child whether college is right for them now. Some young people benefit from working, joining the military or taking some time to mature a bit before attending college. This might be a particularly good idea if your child is a bit less mature or independent or has had academic challenges or is unsure about life goals. Some young people get more out of the college experience when they are a bit older. But of course, delaying and then extending the time spent on education may not be an option for everyone.

Once you’ve made a decision that college makes sense, you will all (you, your child and the high school counselor) need to put your heads together and think about where to apply. There are lots of things to consider and many of these things are obvious. The cost, whether a public or private college makes sense, whether your child will live at home and commute or go away to school, the academic competitiveness and selectiveness of the school are all pretty obvious. Nevertheless, most people do not consider several really important factors.

There is really good support for the idea that the competitiveness, reputation and ranking of the college your child attends is not nearly as important as most people believe. But, it turns out that finding a school that is a good fit personally, emotionally and socially can make a really big difference for how your child will feel and how the experience of college will go for them and to their success in school. Issues like distance from home, the size of the school, access and responsiveness of support services and how good the fit is between the emotional-social climate on campus and your child’s personality and needs, can make all the difference.

The articles in this section (and in College in Perspective for Students) will tell you much more about all of the issues just mentioned. There is a lot to find out. The good news is that there is a tremendous variety of colleges and most everyone can find places that are likely to be a good fit. Try to help your child approach this process as an adventure of discovery. At its best, looking for colleges can become an exciting part of a young person’s process of learning about their wants and needs.

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