The College Quest

Now that the school year has begun, it’s once again time for juniors and seniors to begin their quest for the right college.

Like all good quests, finding the right college starts with knowing the end goal.

Each student’s end goal is different, but it is identified by asking the same question: Where does that student want to be five years from now?

Some students may be interested in jobs that require intensive intellectual preparation. Others may not.

If a student’s end goal requires intensive intellectual preparation in a specialized field (doctor, lawyer, professor, veterinarian, art conservator, etc.), a college with a focus on top-quality academics in that field will be the best path to achieve that goal.

If a student’s end goal does not require intensive intellectual preparation, the student should consider the many options for achieving that goal.

If a student is not yet sure of a potential career choice, the high school years – or even a gap year – are excellent times to discover, plan, and take the next steps.

The Most Important Often-Overlooked Consideration

With the end goal in mind, students nearing graduation need to consider what their priorities are for reaching the end goal.

Many students can reach their end goals most effectively by attending college; however, many students will not benefit from a traditional college experience.

In the rush and excitement of finishing high school, planning for the future, and preparing for a new stage of life, it is often overlooked that students may not be prepared for college.

Several recent studies have documented large numbers of students needing remedial education and low college graduation rates.

Students considering college must consider whether they have been adequately prepared for college by their high school education.

If you’re considering college, ask yourself whether you can confidently:

  • Write complete sentences
  • Write concise and precise paragraphs
  • Write a persuasive essay
  • Write an expository essay
  • Write a research paper
  • Write a book review
  • Write an essay exam
  • Create a thesis, outline, and multiple drafts and revisions of your work
  • Find and use scholarly and other reliable sources
  • Correctly use documentation/citations and bibliographies/works cited pages
  • Deliver oral presentations and debates
  • Remain poised during an oral exam or defense
  • Find and deal with sources that have opposing points of view
  • Know the difference between primary and secondary sources
  • Gather the meaning of a word from context and from word roots/prefixes/suffixes
  • Identify an author’s or speaker’s bias
  • Know your own beliefs/opinions and why you hold them – and what you might say if someone questions your beliefs/opinions
  • Organize and schedule your work and complete it on time
  • Manage your school work while keeping yourself healthy, fed, sufficiently-rested, recreated, and in clean (or at least non-smelly) clothes
  • Deal with multiple challenging tasks at the same time while keeping your cool (i.e. staying sane – exaggeration not intended)

These are all skills that you will need to have mastered before you get to college. Your college dorm or classroom is the really expensive place to realize that you are unprepared. If you’re unsure about any of these skills, practice them now – before you get to college.

The Other Most Important Often-Overlooked Consideration

For students whose end goals will be reached most effectively by attending college, efficient use of finances is almost always the top priority, and other key priorities tend to include location, prestige, selectivity, safety, sports and extra-curricular activities, industry connections, facilities, and food quality.

Often overlooked, it seems, is the fact that the purpose of a college is to provide education.

The goal of attending college – or any post-high school learning institution – is to learn what you will need to know to prepare for your career.

Ultimately, the most important consideration in choosing a college is whether or not that college will give you the best preparation for what you want to do with your life.

Students and parents should consider both the student’s end goal and the many priorities involved in choosing a school and work to develop a hierarchy of priorities and non-negotiables – keeping in mind the ultimate goal of furthering the student’s education.

Students should do research to find out which colleges specialize in their chosen field. One college may be known for its excellent biology program. Another college may have a reputation for its business school. As much as possible, students should aim to attend a college that excels in the field that they want to excel in.

Should I dual-enroll? 

There are five main reasons to dual-enroll:

  1. Save money in a traditional college setting
  2. Save time in a traditional college setting
  3. Get non-major credits out of the way so that you can take more credits in your major
  4. Boost your transcript/resume
  5. Get a taste of college-level work

There are four main things to keep in mind when considering dual-enrollment:

  1. Will the college you plan to end up at accept your dual-enrollment credits from the college you plan to dual-enroll at? (Remember, not all colleges allow dual-enrollment credits to transfer.)
  2. Can I pass this dual-enrollment course with flying colors? (Remember, doing poor or average work on a dual-enrollment course does not look good on your transcript – and that’s a major understatement.)
  3. Is college X the best place for you to dual-enroll? (Remember, not all dual-enrollment programs are alike. Some colleges offer much stronger dual-enrollment programs than others.)
  4. Do you want to spend that much effort studying this subject in high school?

Ultimately, whether or not you should dual-enroll will be based on what your end goal is – but more specifically, it will be based on whether the schools you are considering will accept your credits.

What if I’m not sure what I want to do yet? 

If you’re not sure what career you’d like to have – or what you’d be good at – consider:

  • Working a fixed-hour job to earn money, get experience, demonstrate your good work ethic to people outside your family, and experiment with your interests
  • Take an apprenticeship or internship to get experience and experiment with your interests
  • Check out the programs that colleges offer for high school students during the summer
  • Travel
  • Volunteer for causes that you are concerned about
  • Try new hobbies
  • Interview people who are in fields you are considering
  • Use online resources (open courseware, speeches by famous authors posted online, etc.) to expand your education
  • In general, stay curious, thoughtful, and proactive