3 Ways to Help Students Considering College

By Ellen Utley

As your students begin to think about college, you’re likely to be one of the people they turn to for advice and support. Here are three important considerations for educators to remember when giving college guidance and helping students choose a school that’s right for them.

1. Be Mindful of Overvaluing a College's Brand

During the college search, students, parents, and administrators often prioritize the brand or rank of a college, especially when it comes to thinking about a student’s career. It’s assumed that having an elite institution on your résumé will take you further. In reality, there are other critical considerations in choosing a college that may have a greater impact on developing a strong résumé and finding that first job out of college.

Instead of starting a college search based on the overall rankings of different-tiered colleges, encourage students to begin by focusing on the rankings of individual academic departments, professors, career programs, or student opportunities in an area of interest. Help students keep in mind that there are many colleges that may not be ranked in the top tier but that may have, for instance, a high-ranking biology department that does cutting-edge research and has student opportunities that launch graduates into first-rate careers. 

Discrepancies in student employment and life satisfaction between different-tier schools are not as vast as many think.

2. Emphasize Fit

Research shows that finding a school that’s a good fit on a personal, emotional, and social level has a direct positive impact on students’ success and experiences in college. And much of the academic failure and poor retention in U.S. colleges stems from students who are struggling with emotional and psychosocial challenges. 

The first step to academic and personal success in college is choosing a school that’s a good fit. A college may be a good fit if it:

  • Makes the student feel at home
  • Is a comfortable place to explore 
  • Encourages the student to take enriching chances 
  • Supports the student in their career aspirations
  • Facilitates meaningful social connections 
  • Nurtures outside interests 
  • Helps the student mature into the person they wish to be 

Often, the college search will be influenced by other factors such as family finances, location of a school, and social scene. In the end, the right school aligns with a student’s abilities and resources (ignore the rankings!), helps them build social connection and purpose,  and fosters their dreams. And there are so many different educational institutions where students can find that mix.

3. Consider the Student’s Emotional and Personal Characteristics

Research also shows us that when a student feels supported and connected, they’re more likely to have a sense of well-being and enjoy academic success. Factors such as campus size, campus social scene, college setting, and distance from home have a direct impact on the level of student engagement and a sense of belonging while away at school. Here are some questions you can help your students to think through:

  • Do you need or want to live at home while you’re in college?
  • Do you want to be close to home so you can easily visit on the weekend? 
  • Do you want to put a plane ride between your school and your hometown, and is that in your—or your family’s—budget?
  • Do you thrive in nature and wide-open spaces, or are you more excited by the buzz of a big city?
  • Are there resources at the school for students of your particular background or identity?
  • Are there clubs or activities that fit with your current interests or sound interesting to you?

When a student’s personal characteristics and preferences align with the college setting and culture, they’re more likely to find personal fulfillment and academic success. Hopefully, your school administration will help relay the importance of postsecondary education and finding the right fit. 

Here are some resources you can share with your students to help them select a college that’s right for them: 

How to Choose a College Type That Is Right for You

“Important Campus Characteristics When Choosing a College”

Discovering If the Social Scene of a College Is Right for You

Checking Out the First-Year College Experience

College Visit Checklist & Must-Do’s

Making the Most of Virtual College Tours