The college search can be an exercise in frustration, but there’s a secret to successfully choosing the perfect school to compliment your (or your child’s) specific skill set and wish list – think outside the box.
No matter the grades, test scores, extra-curriculars, or presumed major, there are schools out there that match those metrics perfectly, and will provide quality education, phenomenal exposure, and exceptional opportunity – and the price tag may even be a pleasant surprise. Consider these factors:
- Look at individual programs. If you know what you want to study, ignore the University as an institution. High-quality educations result from a school’s expertise in a refined subject area, not studying at a school with endless offerings in endless subject areas. It may be that a rising Freshman entering college to study Mechanical Engineering will find some of the country’s best programs on some huge, traditional, and high-ranking University campuses – but that isn’t always the case. Be especially careful if the course of study in question is trade-oriented (think culinary arts, mechanical skills, or nursing, for example) as you’ll find that some of the strongest programs are at schools you’ve never stopped to think about.
- Most people don’t attend prestigious universities. While there will always be competition for coveted spots at the most prestigious schools, most people don’t earn those spots. Value schools aren’t just priced reasonably – they’re designed to accommodate a variety of skill sets, interests, and industry-specific needs. These are the institutions that educate the masses. Those schools with 10% acceptance rates? Most of us aren’t going to attend those– and that is okay.
- Rank does not matter. Let's go ahead and say it. We all know that the ranking systems relied on by parents and students to determine which schools are “best” are systemically flawed. If we know – and we all do – that “rank” isn’t really want makes a school good, better, or best, then why do we rely on those numbers to help make such an important decision?
Step outside of the box, and look at schools that serve smaller populations, cost less (or offer better financial aid packages - use the "net price calculator" at the school's website to find out), and offer less conventional opportunities for students to learn. The academic world is vast and offers opportunity far beyond big football schools and Universities so large that they swallow cities whole. You might be pleasantly surprised!
If you want more help on selecting and applying to college, download our free Guide to College Planning.