18 Aug How Students Can Choose the Best College for Them Finding The “Best Fit” For Freshman Year
College application season is an anxiety-inducing time for teens to say the least. Even though most Americans believe college education is a worthwhile long-term investment, it can be a challenging time for students to navigate in the short-term. Indeed, recent data from the Princeton Review suggests at least 76 percent of high school students are stressed about the application process.
Many factors contribute to “application anxiety,” but a significant concern is choosing the “right” college. With so many college reviews and rankings available online, it’s easy for students to get swayed toward schools that may not ultimately be in their best interest. Before students begin sorting through lists of such “best ranked” universities, they should define their criteria to ensure each college choice meets their personal and professional goals.
Is It Always “Greener” In the Ivy League? — The Truth About Official College Rankings
Most students and parents have probably been attracted by the allure of an Ivy League degree. Many people assume prestigious college degrees always translate to super profitable careers. However, recent research suggests graduates from “high-ranking” colleges don’t actually have significant advantages in the workforce.
Ironically, a study backed by Princeton University’s Alan B. Krueger suggested there’s no significant difference in earnings between students who graduated from Ivy League schools and those from non-Ivy schools. After pouring through decades of data, researchers didn’t see a causal relationship between Ivy League degree and higher average earnings.
Recent research from Payscale.com adds credence to Princeton’s investigation. According to analysts, the average starting salaries for Ivy League graduates are lower than students who went to “less prestigious” private or public colleges. PayScale estimated that Ivy League grads typically make $73,500 per year, but those from non-Ivy private schools made the most at about $80,000 per year. Interestingly, public school graduates tended to make an average annual salary of $77,500.
It’s also essential to consider Ivy League degrees cost significantly more than other college options. So, not only are Ivy League graduates making about the same compared with other universities, but there’s also a greater chance students will have to deal with extra debt later on.
If a student genuinely believes they will benefit from an Ivy League college’s resources, it may be worthwhile to add these schools to their watch list. However, if students are only trying to get into these schools because they’re so prestigious chances are they need to re-think how they’re evaluating colleges.
So, How Should Students Develop Their College Shortlist?
Instead of focusing on “official” college rankings, students should define what they want from their university experience. Most significantly, students should consider how their professional interests align with a college’s offerings. For instance, if students are most interested in the medical field, it makes sense to focus on colleges with a formidable reputation for medicine.
It is also helpful for students to look at the course offerings and faculty members at specific institutions. Does the course of study in their area of interest align with their career goals and look like a logical path to achieving their goals? Does the faculty in their potential major have books, publications, films or interviews that they find of interest? The relationships that students forge with their professors during the course of their college studies are often more important than course work.
Beyond professional concerns, students should consider how a college’s environment will influence their lives. Do students feel comfortable with all the stimulation of a city atmosphere, or do they need a less urban setting to do well? Will students feel OK in large classes, or do they crave a smaller campus size?
The only way to “experience” each college is to take advantage of scheduled tours and events. Before going on a guided tour, students may want to write down a few questions to ask students or administrators. Students should be aware that some college escorts report back to admissions on students who they meet on tours. It also pays to go on a tour when college students are there, which makes a huge difference in evaluating a campus atmosphere. These tours should give students a sense of whether they’d feel comfortable at a particular college they’re considering.
There’s no exact science on screening colleges, but students should never forget to put their screening methods above a school’s “reputation.” The only time students should consider a school’s prestige is when evaluating their average acceptance ratings.
Most college counselors suggest students narrow their list on average for six to eight colleges when ready to apply. Students should organize these schools according to their average acceptance percentages. Students should have at least three options: “safety schools,” “reach” schools, which are usually in the “prestigious” category, and “match” schools, which are in-between. Colleges with higher-than-average acceptance ratings should be considered “safety” picks. Finally, students should not be afraid to aim high with a school that may seem out of reach even if they don’t meet all of the elements in the application formula. Even though some colleges no longer offer interviews, a favorable impression made during an interview can make a big difference. Besides GPA and standardized tests, the human factor can enter the equation. Sometimes, colleges are also looking to make up an incoming class based on representing different regions of the country, which you may live in.
The bottom line is that since applying for colleges is so competitive, it’s safer for students to have high-quality “backup” options that meet their expectations of success.
Don’t Neglect Mental Health When Researching Colleges
For many students, the anxiety they feel throughout college admissions doesn’t disappear once they arrive on campus. Recent data from Boston University shows there’s a mental health epidemic among today’s college students. Between 2013 and 2021, BU researchers found that cases of depression and anxiety went up over 100 percent for college students.
Students owe it to themselves to research their school’s mental health resources to ensure a smooth transition. Students with mental health concerns should also evaluate whether their university has assistance programs, support groups, or counselors to address their needs.
To learn more tips on mental wellness for students, please check out this previous Umergency post.
Always Consider a Student’s Debt Strategy
As mentioned in the intro, about 76 percent of high school students say they have high stress during the application process. Interestingly, the Princeton Review notes that financial problems were the number one concern for survey respondents. Study authors also found that 98 percent of people in this survey said they needed financial assistance.
It’s no secret that debt for American college students has ballooned in recent years. Understandably, many students cite their financial obligations as a significant stressor during college and after graduation.
Since financing is a central aspect of the college experience, students and parents must factor in cost when picking schools. Even if students take on debt for a college degree, they should have a well-defined strategy to pay off this loan. Ideally, students shouldn’t rush into a college if they don’t have a game plan to deal with their debt.
If students or parents are hesitant about financing their college experience, speaking with a professional financial advisor can be worthwhile. Students should also contact their bank, loan issuer, and desired school with questions about financing options. Taking the time to settle these issues beforehand should help students concentrate on what they’re going to college for: studying, networking, and socializing!
No Matter Which College Students Choose, Umergency Makes Them Safer!
Along with finances and mental health resources, safety is a core consideration when ranking college campuses. While a university should already have an emergency plan and safety measures in place, and many have some kind of safety web page or app, they are usually limited. In the event of an emergency, the Umergency app allows students to contact their trusted network of friends and family with just the click of a button. It also enables both high school and college students to access local emergency services and national hotlines within seconds–whether they are on or off campus. No matter how sterling a school’s safety reputation is, downloading the Umergency app offers additional peace of mind for both students and parents.
For more info on the benefits of the Umergency app, please click this link.