Tips for mastering the college search and selection process

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The college search process can be exciting and overwhelming as it can impact a student’s academic journey and personal growth in the short and long term. It’s important to approach the decision-making process informed and with tools that help students focus on finding a school where they can thrive and achieve their goals.

On this 630 Naperville Business Forward segment, Kaylin Risvold, President and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, is joined by Aggie Hanni, Vice President for Enrollment Management & Marketing at North Central College to get some insider tips to help students better navigate their post-high school choice and help answer the question “What college should I go to?”

What should students be thinking about as they’re considering a college?

Location, location, location. Hanni said thinking about where the school is located is a good place to start in the college search process and that students should evaluate what they are looking for in the larger community surrounding the campus. Students should take into consideration whether they would prefer a large metropolitan area, a smaller rural area, or maybe something in between.

“With location, there will be additional implications such as transportation to campus, such as opportunities for internships, opportunities for jobs, and networking,” said Hanni.

Students should plan at least one visit to the campus they are considering to see if it is a good fit. Hanni explained, “Oftentimes our students talk about community, the sense of community that they feel when they visit allows them to narrow down their choices.”

Find the best college for your major

Risvold asked Hanni what else students and their parents should consider as they narrow down their choices.

Hanni said academic choices are often a top priority for students. She went on, “One way to start that search process is to narrow down the types of programs that they’re looking for. Some institutions offer very unique majors that are not available elsewhere, which certainly narrows down the process.”

She noted that many institutions offer paths that overlap. And while that could make things more complicated, it can also be good for students who are unsure what they want to major in. “It’s appropriate to take their time choosing the right major from the get-go, or if they ended up starting undecided because that’s is what the college experience is all about.”

It’s ok to make a change even after you started college

Risvold questioned if it was ok for a student to change their mind after they had already made the decision on a major or even move to another college altogether.

“It’s a very common practice. As a matter of fact, it’s actually less common for us to see a student who starts with one particular major and sticks with that major. That happens by all means. But many students also engage in that search process by changing their majors,” replied Hanni.

However, she advised that it is completely normal and possible for students to change directions at any point when they are in the discovery stage. The earlier they do it, the better it is because they position themselves for the appropriate courses for that track.

Higher education is a long-term investment

The pair moved on to discuss the financial investment and how that should be factored into the college selection decision. Hanni said that often finances are one of the first things families and students think about and they should absolutely consider how the financial investment will affect them long-term, and how it positions them for lifelong careers.

“Nowadays, many students, once they graduate, end up changing jobs every five years or so. That tells us that students should be prepared for those transitions as they happen throughout their lifetime. We know that there are careers that will be around in five, ten, or 15 years that we can’t even predict,” remarked Hanni.

She urged students to consider the entirety of the college experience, not just the outcome of a particular major.

Choosing the best college is a process of exploration and self-discovery. Students should consider their unique objectives, interests, and needs, to help them narrow their selection and help them find the right college that aligns with their current and future goals.