Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions of your teen’s life—and unsurprisingly, it can be overwhelming for both teens and their parents. You’ve probably received plenty of advice on what to consider when evaluating your teen’s college options: cost, location, major/program choices and size. However, there are other elements to think about as well. Here are several less common topics to explore during your teen’s college search:
Academic focus – Your teen’s certainty about his or her major and career path should definitely influence the college search process. If he or she is positive about pursuing business, narrow the search to include universities with strong business schools. If your teen is deciding between veterinary sciences and marine science, be sure that the colleges he or she is considering offer both programs. Similarly, if the nearby college is an engineering school, he or she shouldn’t waste effort applying if your teen has no interest in engineering.
Teaching vs. research – Clearly, a student’s experience at a top research university would be quite different than at a liberal arts college. Perhaps your budding scientist wants to study under the most renowned researchers in the country at a large university, even if it means fewer classes actually being taught by those professors. However, your teen shouldn’t rule out the small liberal arts college, which may offer more undergraduate research opportunities than universities that reserve those opportunities for graduate students. The admissions teams at your prospective colleges can help answer questions about their faculty teaching/research expectations—and how that impacts the student experience.
Class size ratios for all classes – It usually isn’t difficult to find out a college’s student-faculty ratio or percentage of classes with 20 or fewer students (check ranking institutions such as U.S. News & World Report if the information isn’t easy to locate on the college website). However, do a little homework on the class size ratio for general education courses, too, since those will make up most of your student’s schedule during the first year of college. A school that boasts an 18:1 student-teacher ratio might also have a high number of required general education classes with class sizes of 200-300 or higher. If learning under this model would be challenging for your teen, he or she should take this under serious consideration.
Retention rate – One measurement that might matter especially to parents is that of the first- to second-year retention rate. In other words, how successful is a college at retaining students? According to the ACT, which conducts research on this topic, universities and colleges with higher retention rates tend to focus on areas such as involvement experiences, personal future building and academic stimulation. U.S. News & World Report publishes retention rates for many colleges.
Selecting a college should be a careful and thoughtful process. Encourage your teen to explore as many facets of his or her top choices as possible. While the ultimate decision may come down to the “gut feel test,” the more your teen knows about a college beforehand, the more informed his or her decision will be.