Mitch Warren, director of the Office of Admissions at Purdue University, understands why students worry, but he believes choosing a college doesn't have to be traumatic. "It should be about finding the best place that matches your academic goals, needs, and desires," he says. "This can be an incredibly fun process."
Yet, choosing a college based on rankings is easy. Amorphous, subjective "fit" is a target that's hard to identify let alone hit.
Christine Groves Cheney, a college admissions consultant in Washington, D.C., has worked with many families buckling under the pressure to identify that single best school. She, like Warren, tries to change their mindset.
"The college admissions process has become unduly stressful for students and families. It does not have to be," Cheney says. "There is a college for every student. And most students would be happy at many different colleges."
Even without the pressure to get into the school, students still have to choose a school. College admissions consultant Valerie Blair likes Collegexpress.com, a site with lists, articles, and search capabilities for colleges, grad schools, and scholarships. The College Board [collegeboard.org] is another popular option for prospective students.
Teens today can research and apply to colleges entirely online. Many colleges and universities have dedicated Facebook pages for prospective students and another for their parents. However, most advisers still recommend visiting several campuses in person before making a final decision.
That can seem like a lot of travel if you save it all for senior year.
Charlotte Romero, who has one son in college and one headed there, says her family incorporated informal college visits into vacations. It was a good way to get familiar with different kinds of campuses, and the exposure helped her sons narrow their options when the time came. Blair also recommends visiting local schools, even if they aren't on the short list, to help students decide if that's the kind of atmosphere they would like even if it's not exactly the school they want to attend.
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