Wednesday’s Parent: Hunting and gathering a college list Part 1

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

A lot is riding on making a good college list. Your student will be applying to the schools on the final list so they better offer the best chance for student success. It’s so important that Suzanne and I are giving our tips in two parts. Today’s Part 1 is about general criteria and next week’s Part 2 is about refining the list.

I like to think of the college list process as that of gathering and hunting. That’s how the early humans adapted to their natural environment, created tools to ensure survival, and developed a rich culture filled with language and the arts.

According to a fascinating article in 2011 Psychology Today:

The hunter-gatherer way of life, unlike the agricultural way of life that followed it, apparently depended on intense cooperation and sharing, backed up by a strong egalitarian ethos; so, hunter-gatherers everywhere found ways to maintain a strong egalitarian ethos.

This describes the need for students to drive the college search as they begin their adult life and the help parents may provide.

Federal, state and college websites are chock full of info and data. Schools and organizations sponsor college fairs with the lowdown directly from college representatives. There are books and articles online and in libraries from college experts. Counselors, alumni. professors, current students and college social media provide another perspective.

Here are five ways parents may help their students gather the information they need to find colleges to consider for their college list:

  1. Answer this question I posed this question before and parents may ask this to their children: Is college a love match or a consumer purchase? In fact, it is a combo of both but how much of one over the other is the student’s ultimate decision. Keeping the answer in mind will balance realistic, practical and emotional responses during the college search and make it easier to eliminate or add schools.
  2. Focus on the end goal first Before looking at colleges, parents may ask their college-bound teen how he will use his earned college degree. Besides the increased knowledge and developed critical thinking skills, does she plan to go on to grad school, start a business, or begin a career? Checking the school’s success rate in retention, graduation within four years, graduate admission, and employment stats will narrow the college list choices.
  3. Increase options It may seem odd to increase options while whittling down choices but it makes perfect sense when it comes to increasing student chances for admission and financial aid. Colleges set their own admission requirements and students may compare their qualifications with those of current students. This is great motivation for college prep. Parents may help their children create a calendar to stay organized and get the job of a student done by earning qualifying grades on transcripts and tests.
  4. Define interests Finding a college is about finding a place that matches and enhances a student’s interests. Parents may help their student brainstorm a list of things that are important to them including programs, activities and location. Schools will show their priorities with significant funding and opportunities in these areas. Students should pay attention to department size; number, frequency and ease of taking desired classes; internships, programs and guest speakers; and opportunities after graduation.
  5. Go off campus Colleges offer academic and extracurricular programs and events on and off campus. Parents and students may form a team to divide the research to focus on both aspects. Look at the campus and surrounding community. Is it safe, student-friendly, easy to get to, easy for parents to visit, full of opportunities? What relationships does the college have with other schools, groups and businesses that may benefit students?

Read Suzanne’s blog for more help in forming a college list:

You Want to Go to College Where?–A College List Part 1


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

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