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The College Selection/ Rejection Mindset

Now that the May 1 enrollment decision day looms large for this year’s crop of college-bound high school seniors, we can turn our attention to high school juniors. They will soon be so-called “rising” seniors as they enjoy their summer between junior and senior year. As I’ve mentioned before, when I hear the term “rising” senior, I picture bread baking. Somehow, the word “rising” doesn’t seem to jibe with the image of a high school student on summer vacation. Those of you parents out there who have had to blow a compressed-air boat horn to get your rising senior to rise out of bed will know what I mean.Anyway, let’s talk about the process high school students use to select the the colleges to which they will (or won’t) apply. I have found some interesting data about that. One particularly interesting set of comments comes from social architect David Porter, who shared with me his theories about why high schoolers may need to rethink their rationale for selecting a first-choice college from among all the candidates they are investigating.As I discuss every spring, tens of thousands of high school students receive their college acceptance letters in April. It’s an anxious time. Students and their parents want to believe that the schools from which the good news has arrived hold the promise that attendance will be their ticket to eventual financial success in a life’s work. So, if they are trying to get from the here and now to that hoped-for financial independence, how do they select the one school that will deliver that return on their investment?Porter says that young people tend to quickly fall in love with a school, and that parents tend to just as quickly wear their son’s or daughter’s acceptance as a badge of honor, or at least as some kind of validation as a successful parent. I have seen this many times in my work as an independent college admissions counselor. Porter goes on to note that students and parents should be skeptical, and consider all of what a college has offer, and how it will deliver on the implicit promise of financial independence. Which school will nurture and grow the prerequisite face-to-face problem-solving skills required to secure gainful employment and financial independence upon graduation? These are reasonable questions. According to the most recent study from the UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, only 58 percent of the surveyed 204,000 college freshmen enrolled at their first-choice college, the lowest percentage to do so since the question was first asked in 1974. Let’s take a look at some of the chief reasons for this.The major factors behind the decline are cost and financial aid. A 2012 study by the research group Ipsos and the student loan giant, Sallie Mae, indicates that roughly 70 percent of families are ruling out colleges based on cost. That seems to be an obvious, predictable conclusion.First choice or otherwise, Porter says students and their families should consider a variety of factors in estimating the most value to be had at a campus. Some are more relevant than others:- A school’s ranking: According to one of the world’s leading public intellects who regularly weighs in on academic issues, Malcom Gladwell, the national ranking a school receives doesn’t necessarily reflect the needs of individual students. Just like an expensive sports car is valued, in part, from an arbitrary, expensive price tag, so too are colleges. The various needs a young adult will have are by no means fully represented by the seven variables used by the U.S. News rankings, run by Robert Morse. The variables include undergraduate academic reputation, financial resources and alumni giving.- On-Campus culture and community: In addition to academics and the rigors thereof, a college offers (or fails to offer) a unique on-campus college experience. Will the environment foster success (post-graduate financial independence) or, will it essentially be a few more years of high school under the guise of “college”? Look for safe, wholesome campus venues, like a student union or a next generation dining learning commons that invites student interaction, collaboration, problem-solving, and dining 24/7. “Social architecture” is the conscious design of an environment to encourage social behaviors.- Parent-student understanding: Move out and stay out (because you can). Moms and Dads, your children want a nice home, a nice car, nice vacations, nice stuff, nice meals, and so on. It costs tens of thousands of dollars per year to attend most colleges. Whether or not a student assumes massive debt to follow his/her dreams, or a parent shares that burden should be moot if the student can identify, pursue, and secure gainful employment upon graduation. Having debt is an enormous burden at any stage of life if you are unemployed. Choosing a school is a great opportunity for parents to lead by example on how to make a purchase decision for any “big ticket” item. Do your homework. Buyer beware. Coach them using some of the same skills you would use to buy a house, purchase a car, or invest in a new business.Wise counsel, indeed, that can have a significant effect on a high school student’s creation of a list of candidate schools to research, visit, and eventually apply to. But, beyond these practical and logically applied maxims, what are some of the flip-side approaches to choosing — or dismissing — a college during a search for candidates?One of the best places for insights into issues like this is the College Confidential discussion forum. I discovered a wonderfully informative thread that allows us a deep peek into the thinking of some high school students’ mindsets about what does not turn them on about colleges. The thread is entitled Stupidest reason child won’t look at a college. Ha! That title alone is good for a laugh. Wait until you read some of those reasons. Here’s a sampling:

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