2 Crucial questions to answer before building a college list

At Flourish, our work is all about being intentional when launching students. Most often for the families we work with, this includes going to college to be prepared to get that future job.

Creating a college list can be a daunting task and many families are at a loss for where to begin. I believe there are two crucial questions to answer and additional helpful questions to ask in addition to “Can I get in?”.

Academic Fit – Begin With The End In Mind

Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a classic. Habit #2 is “Begin with the end in mind”.

What’s the end goal of college? A degree that “fits” the graduate’s strengths, values, and academic potential that will launch them happily into adulthood and thriving in their career.

Nothing is worse than a student falling in love with a college that they later realize doesn’t have their program or doesn’t allow students to change into that major at a later date. It’s crucial students put in the work to decide what major(s) they want or need at a college. This is the sole focus of the work we do in the Launch Career Clarity course.

See, there are some colleges where some majors will be off the table if the student doesn’t apply at the time of application. It’s important to rule out, or in, those majors before making major decisions on colleges to apply to and enroll in. Learn more about how colleges admit to majors on a previous Flourish blog and presentation.

Financial Fit – Establish a College Budget

Falling in love with a school the student can’t afford is as bad as one that doesn’t offer the right majors.

Paying for college and the financial puzzle of college costs are the least popular topics on the college-bound journey. Colleges can cost anywhere from $20,000 per year to $80,000 per year, so it’s important to know whose responsibility it is to have skin in the game and how much. If the parents want the student to help pay, the student should know this upfront.

Students have only three reliable resources to pay for college: merit scholarships, money from work, and federal student loans. If a student finishes college in four years (only 41% do – shocking, right?), the maximum amount of student loans without a working adult co-signer is $27,000. Learn more about student loans at StudentAid.gov.

Other Factors That Might Matter

EVERY student needs to answer the first two questions, but there are additional pieces that also matter in finding the campus fit.

Here is a list of conversation cues to use with your student to determine what matters and start building your list.

What do extracurriculars might you want to do in college?

This could be to continue in Model UN, DECA, or other activities that can be extended into college. Perhaps your student-athlete wants to still play, but enjoy the more leisurely pace of club or intermural sports.

Do you care about the weather on campus throughout the school year? 

When asked in the dead of winter, your student might crave warmth or perhaps they hate heat and humidity and refuse family beach vacations. I have a student I’m currently working with who legitimately has a seasonal defective disorder – temperature doesn’t matter, but sunshine does!

Do you think the size of the campus will affect whether you like it or not?

This is a difficult one as students often compare the number in the student body to their high school graduating class when actually what they are most concerned about is the size of the campus. My daughter, Sydney, attends a large university in an urban setting with nearly 30,000 students. She went to visit a friend on a typical college town campus and it “felt” like it was a larger school when in reality it has around half the student body size as her school. Why? The urban campus is landlocked and built up where the college town campus is spread out on hundreds of acres. Size can be deceiving.

How far from home do you want to be? What’s too far and too close?

Include conversation pieces like does flying mean a direct flight or a connection where you’ll spend most of the day traveling? What if you are too far to be home for Thanksgiving and need to stay back with a friend due to exams the next week?

College Navigator Tool

One of the many tools I teach my students to use in their Career Clarity journey is the US Department of Education’s College Navigator search engine. Once you get clear on desired major(s), budget, and other important factors, this is a fantastic tool to use in building the college list.