How to Select the Right College and a Potential Major:
Insider Tips for Parents and Students from Educational Consultant and University Professor Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.
There are more than 4,000 colleges in the US alone and these offer a myriad of majors and minors some of which you’ve likely never even considered , i.e. business analytics, viticulture and enology (the art of grape growing and winemaking), nanotechnology, design, information systems, costume technology, technical writing or even bakery science!
How do parents and students select their “best-fit” colleges and arrive at decisions about where to apply and enroll?
RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH!!
- Establish Educational Goals: Initially your exploration of colleges should be guided by exploring the academics. Whether you love or hate science, want to change the world, enjoy drawing, solving problems, singing or surfing the web, a student’s passions and interests direct your college research.
Begin the process by asking a few questions about yourself. What subjects do you enjoy and do you excel in these subjects? What are your personal strengths? Are you a natural problem solver? Are you artistic? Do you enjoy helping others? Is having a broad based education important to you or would you rather prepare yourself for a very specific occupation?
Explore available resources to consider potential majors, areas of study and potential career fields.
Think of a large university such as the University of Florida, Stanford or Boston University. Click on the college’s website and begin your exploration within the course catalog. Review the available course descriptions for a major you’ve considered and explore new areas of study. What are your first impressions? Take notes- what is attractive to you and can you imagine yourself enrolling in and enjoying these courses?
Some majors have very rigid four-year requirements (i.e. STEM), making it difficult, but not impossible to pursue the major as a transfer after the sophomore year. Avoid labeling yourself “undecided” when in fact you’re really a “flexible” and “multi-disciplinary” student. There are colleges which encourage students to design their own major. Both breadth and depth of study offer opportunities for your education and career.
- College Specific Research: Once you have established educational goals, begin some preliminary research on which universities offer the strongest programs in the fields of study you may enjoy most. There are a variety of resources to find a college that may fit a student’s needs. Keep in mind that “name recognition” is the reason behind why some top-tier schools receive 40,000+ applications enabling them to boast of their single-digit admission rates and high “rankings”.
Your goal is to conduct research to help you make an informed college choice. Some of these resources include the following:
- University Websites:
ACADEMICS: Exploring a college’s website can provide you with invaluable information about “academics”. You’ll want to review available areas of study and degree requirements, faculty research and any formal research programs for undergraduates. Explore clubs related to your major area of study (i.e. Engineers might consider Robocup!), academic support services for tutoring, career placement statistics, study abroad opportunities, or graduate application assistance (Is there a dedicated advisor for medical school applicants?).As a freshman, can you envision the courses you might consider and the available academic extracurricular activities you might take advantage of to enrich your experience? Can you identify resources where you would turn for academic assistance if needed?SOCIAL LIFE: Explore the college newspaper and student center to consider campus life outside the classroom. What are the available on-campus social activities? It’s important not only to have the academic resources for your intended area of study, but also to know that that there is more taking place than frat parties, football games or spending your evening playing video games. Locate the listing of student clubs on the college website. If the list isn’t robust and reflective of some of your current interests, that’s a potential red flag about how you’ll be spending your time outside of the classroom.
Imagine yourself a currently enrolled student and take note of the available activities taking place on any given weekend. Do they appeal to you?
- LinkedIn’s University and Field of Study Explorer: This amazing resource is invaluable in locating schools that consistently produce well trained graduates.The tools provided are helpful for students and parents by focusing the research about colleges specifically to intended majors. There is also an option to narrow your search to colleges that best prepare you for employment at specific companies.Many schools utilize social media to provide you with a snapshot of the campus. While your most accurate way to assess campus culture is through a campus visit, social media can provide an initial impression of student life and the campus pulse. However, avoid becoming a Facebook follower without ensuring your Facebook page provides a flattering image of yourself. See my recent blog posting: “Social Media- College Applications- Career Connections- Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter?”
3.College ranking lists provide a starting point for gathering information about a college’s academics, professors and post-graduates success.
Some of the more popular rankings include US News and World Report’s Best Colleges, Forbes American’s Top Colleges, Business Insider Best Colleges in America, Money Magazine Best Colleges, New York Times Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges, Washington Monthly College Rankings and PayScale College Salary and ROI Reports.
University ranking lists can vary considerably because of the different methodologies. For example, Forbes America’s Top Colleges may return different results than US News and World Report because of Forbes’ emphasis on post-graduate success and student loan debt.
The more you learn about potential areas of study, career paths and specific colleges, the easier it becomes to make informed decisions about where to apply and enroll. By selecting universities that meet both your academic and social needs you’re more likely to be happy and successful in pursing educational goals. Do your research! Speak with your guidance counselor, admissions officers, alumni, current and former students.
I invite you to leverage my extensive knowledge of university curricula and my experience advising thousands of high school, undergraduate and graduate students navigating curriculum choices to set and realize educational and career goals.
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© College Career Consultants, LLC March 2015