Helping Your Students Rank Their College Priorities: A Guide for Counselors

Last updated: Jan 21, 2019

For a counselor to pair college-bound high school students with the right schools, the students must know what they want and need. Sounds simple, but counselors know that most of their students still will be figuring those things out come senior year. What students must learn is that success in the college selection process is about identifying and satisfying their wants and needs when it comes to academics, social life/atmosphere, finances, location, and infrastructure/services. Those areas are where the focus should be when you help students choose their college priorities.

A student and a counselor go over the student's questions about college.Questions Are the Answer to Identifying What Matters Most in the College Hunt

A counselor’s goal is to find where students fit when it comes to curriculums and colleges. With colleges, the deciding issues might not fall neatly under our aforementioned five labels. Perhaps being the family’s next college legacy is a top issue for a student. If a key issue isn’t listed, have

students create or customize a category when they sit down to make a list of priorities that will drive their research.

The key to researching schools is knowing what questions to ask yourself and the school, and each student’s questions should be personalized. These basic categories and the questions they raise are a good starting point for writing and ranking a wants-and-needs checklist that can help students choose the college that’s right for them:

Academics

Even if your heart is singing loudest about a college with a great intramural sports program and a bragging rights reputation as an elite school, basic academic issues must be given due diligence. Top questions a student must ask include:

  • Does the school offer the major you have chosen or are likely to choose?
  • Can the school accommodate any plans you might have for a double major or minor?
  • Does the school have academic breadth, offering enough interesting classes outside your focus to allow you to explore other pursuits, grow socially, and perhaps discover a career you love?
  • Does the school present the types of educational challenges and opportunities that can maximize your scholastic experience, from internships to research opportunities and honors classes?
  • What is the student-faculty ratio? The bottom line is how much one-on-one time you will get with instructors and whether those instructors will be aides or professors.
  • What are the average class sizes? Even schools with a great student-faculty ratio can funnel you into a lot of large classes with lecture formats.
  • What is the teaching style? Strong on discussion or heavy on lectures?
  • Does the school have graduate or professional school options you might need?
  • Does the school have a great to stellar academic reputation?

Two students and a counselor discuss college priorities and questions.Social Life/Atmosphere

Life outside the classroom is part of a well-rounded educational experience that maximizes personal growth and enables academic excellence. Related questions a student must ask include:

  • Is an atmosphere boosted by a prestigious reputation a factor?
  • Can the school meet your needs when it comes to extracurricular activities? Athletics?  Academic and professional clubs? Hobby-related clubs? Volunteer opportunities? Social, religious, cultural clubs? Greek life?
  • Does the school offer a level of diversity that can help make you a global citizen and universal thinker?
  • Would you prefer a private or public school experience?
  • Do you want a large- or small-school experience?
  • Are you interested in a coed or single-sex school?
  • Do you want a faith-based school?
  • How important are nightlife/entertainment and cultural pursuits?
  • Are you set on sharing your college experience with a friend(s) from home?

Finances

At all four-year schools in the 2015-16 academic year, 85 percent of students received financial aid. Unless you are among the lucky few for whom money isn’t a consideration, you should ask:

Location

College is about where you want to be as a person after you meet your educational goals, but a school’s location matters, too. Ask yourself:

  • What type of setting do you prefer? Urban? Rural? Coastal? Mountainous? Other?
  • Does the host community seem suitable?
  • Is the climate acceptable?
  • Is it close enough to home (or far enough away)?
  • Can the area meet important personal needs such as hard-to-find medical care?
  • Is the location safe? Research community and campus crime statistics, and learn how to stay safe on campus.

Counselor and student work together on listing what the student's priorities are for college.Infrastructure/Services

When it comes to quality of life, a college’s infrastructure and services are fundamentals. Questions that must be answered include:

  • What are the housing options?
  • What are the transportation options and hurdles?
  • Are campus and community amenities adequate? From campus medical clinics and community hospitals to study centers, libraries, and emergency services, what’s available? Will it serve?
  • Does the school provide postgraduate services such as job placement, continuing education, career resources, product and service discounts, and events?
  • Is there an alumni association?

The schools themselves are the best source of answers on whether they have what a student wants, and admissions offices are the schools’ information clearinghouses.

The USF Office of Admissions always is ready with advice and answers. Contact us online, or reach us by phone at 813-974-3350.

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