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Guidance counselors’ advice for choosing a college

March 21, 2013 04:01 PM
By Jon Fortenbury,
Choosing a college shouldn’t be a solo act. Making an uninformed decision can cost you lots of money and time, which is why every bit of advice should be considered from those who have been there.
Below is advice on choosing a college from three high school guidance counselors at three American high schools.
Stephanie Etkins — The Griffin School in Austin, Texas
Location: If you have the opportunity to leave home, I would encourage you to get out and explore. When looking at locations, consider the job and internship opportunities in the area you attend college. Make sure to consider the cost of living in whichever location you set your heart on.
Tuition and expenses: I encourage students to apply to a wide variety of schools, regardless of their cost, because you never know what your financial-aid package will look like. But make sure that your college list includes at least one or two financial safety schools — schools that you will most likely get into and whose tuition and fees you know you can afford to pay.
Campus life: It’s important to be in a place that provides an active social life and culture outside of the classroom and library. When looking at a school, make sure the campus attracts people you can relate to and offers social and extracurricular activities that appeal to you.
Academics: I believe that a motivated student can receive an excellent education at any institution they decide to attend, whether it is an Ivy League college or their local extension of the state university. That said, if your passion is in the humanities, it helps to attend a small, liberal arts college that will provide intimate, discussion-based classes and highly accessible professors. If your interest is in the sciences, you should aim for a college or university with professors and labs doing cutting-edge research in your field of interest.
Laura Hutchinson — Robert McQueen High School in Reno, Nev.
Location: What’s important about location is that students and their families should always visit a prospective university before they decide to apply. Many times, students can’t get the full picture of the university from websites, publications or virtual tours.
Tuition and expenses: A good portion of a student’s financial money will come from the school in the form of scholarship, work-study, grants and loans. Private schools can often bargain more with a student’s financial package.
Another factor is if a student is planning on graduate school. If so, they may want to consider saving money on their bachelor’s degree so they can spend more on a higher-level graduate school.
Campus life: Campus life can be an important factor. Not only will it help to provide a full college experience, but it can also help to provide "real-life" scenarios for students beyond the classroom.
Academics: Something that has recently become an obstacle for some in their college selection process is the fact that schools have had to cut back or consolidate departments and, as a result, may not offer the student’s major. When students are doing their college search, they should always double check that their desired major is offered.
Christopher Merle — Lincoln Park High School in Chicago
Location: Location directly impacts how often a student is able to see their family. Another factor is whether or not it is in a rural or urban area. This can affect many factors, including public transportation, internship opportunities, networking opportunities and many more.
Finally, don’t forget to consider climate.
Tuition and expenses: When exploring colleges, one of the characteristics of a school that is a "good fit" for a student is a financial fit. Searching for outside scholarships and grants is just as important as searching for college. If college is the vehicle to the professional world, scholarships and grants are the fuel.
Campus life: Campus life is very important when choosing a college or university. We try to recommend a campus visit, possibly even an overnight visit, while schools are in session. By doing this, the students can really get a feel for what campus life is like and how they would feel while there.
Academics: You do not need to know what your major will be or what you will do after college right away, but you should know subject areas in which you are interested. The opportunities in the classroom, in internships and through networking are often times just as important as the name of the school on the diploma.
Jon Fortenbury is an award winning Austin-based freelance writer. He’s been published by the likes of The Huffington Post and and is obssessed with higher education and Woody Allen films. Check out his life-changing blog.