Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Learning | Choosing a College

Titles from SSJCPL for adults helping 

teens to choose a college

As a parent, I've always found it helpful to hear about different ways to handle a problem or situation.  Even if they don't have the perfect solution, other parents help me look at the matter differently, and think of something that will work. I try to walk that fine line, between being supportive enough, or smothering my child with good intentions -- a line that sometimes seemed invisible, as college-bound teens grew more independent. After all, we can't follow them around at college.

The public library can provide valuable tools for the sometimes overwhelming process of  choosing a college. Every person is different, and the perfect school for one young person may not be the best for another. A young adult needs to be responsible for making decisions, applying and meeting deadlines, but parents, counselors and teachers are valuable support staff. 

Dog Races on Picnic Day at UC Davis. 

 Photo by simonledesma on Some rights reserved.

It's never too early to start thinking about how to best help your child explore options. My eldest son was smitten by the charms of UC Davis at eight years of age, when we visited the campus for Picnic Day. We just went there for a day of family fun -- we saw dog races, farm animals, and experimental cars! 

Visiting the campus and touring some of the buildings left a lasting impression on him.  His intended majors changed over the years, but never his choice of college. Even though he had already set his sights on Davis, I was happy that he had opportunities to explore at least half a dozen other schools before sending out applications in his senior year of high school.

Try visiting campuses with your children, whenever you are on a road trip.  Encourage them to take part in any school-sponsored field trips to colleges. The more colleges they see, the more they develop a sense of whether they want to be at a small, medium, large -- or huge -- campus.  Visiting a school's website is a good start, but there's nothing like being there in person and taking a tour.  

Photo by Inkyhack from Some rights reserved.

Cardboard Regatta 2010 at University of the Pacific. 

Photo by Inkyhack from Some rights reserved.

My youngest son took much longer to decide on a school. There was one university, several hundred miles away, that intrigued him, until we visited.  "It's nice," he said, "But I just can't see myself living here." Sometimes his search seemed like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; this one was too far away from family and friends, that one had too many courses led by graduate assistants, or not enough course offerings in different areas of engineering.  He always wanted to major in engineering, but he wasn't sure where he wanted to study. He visited at least nine schools over the years, probably more. He decided on Pacific after attending an admissions preview event. Yes, he grew up in Stockton, and always knew Pacific had a beautiful campus. He just didn't know he would like the engineering school so much. The "just right" campus  is only a fifteen minute bicycle ride from our house. 
The following books will lend some insight for adults hoping to help teens in their college admissions quest:

Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College Here's a humorous recollection of one father's adventures with his son's college admission process, from beginning to end. The author, Andrew Ferguson, is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

I'm Going to College -- Not You! Surviving the College Search With Your Child As you might guess from the title, some of us have trouble remembering not to hover too much. This book is a collection of essays from different parents' experiences with the college selection process.  This is a good source to get some perspective from others, and learn from their mistakes, successes, and humorous observations.

Acceptance: a Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges -- and Find Themselves shares how legendary guidance counselor Gwyeth "Smitty" Smith, who "gets to know students better than their parents know them," helps college applicants make meaningful decisions about finding the right fit.

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