It’s time for college applications. Here’s how to help students make their choice.
Kem Smith, Chalkbeat
As college application season begins, teacher and columnist Dr. Kem Smith offers tips for teachers to help students through this exciting and sometimes emotional time. She will come back to answer your questions next week. You can submit them here.
There are nearly 6,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Students entering universities must limit their choice to just one.
This major life decision need not be overwhelming if students are ready to choose the right college. It is important to remind students that academic programs are only part of what schools offer. There are more criteria that separate colleges and universities.
As a parent-teacher who has helped my children and thousands of high school students make their college choices, I start by asking students to think about what’s most important and rank the following categories from 1 to 5:
For some students, financial aid is their number one consideration, while for others it might be the least important.
If location matters, US New, and World Report College Edition divide and rank universities into regions. When prospective students browse through these lists, they can learn more about tuition, fees, and school size; they can also read reviews and see photos and links to the school’s website.
When my daughter was looking for a university, her main criterion was warm weather. She said she never wanted to experience the cold, ice and snow of Midwestern winters again. We began to consider cities in the South where she could be close to relatives. Her college decision became much easier after deciding on the location.
If reputation is important, the US News and World Report ranks 443 colleges and universities. Families can select multiple college listings and compare them.
The school’s reputation may be based on academic prestige, sports, a strong alumni network, or other factors. Family ties to the school may also affect student decisions.
If size matters to students, find out why they are interested in a small, medium or large university. Students may not recognize the importance of choosing an institution that matches their personality type. During my college experience, I learned that being out of place can lead to homesickness and a lack of connection to the school culture.
– Small colleges has fewer than 5,000 students. Students choose smaller colleges to gain recognition and recognition as an individual.
As an introvert, I chose a small institution because I wanted to know my professors and have them know me.
– Medium-sized establishments has between 5,000 and 15,000 students. The advantages of a medium-sized university are the wide range of course offerings, social opportunities, events, and increased financial aid. I enjoyed my stay in a medium sized institution because of the football team.
– Big usually means more than 15,000 students. Large institutions are known for the research of their faculty. There are multiple opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular activities such as fraternities and sororities, athletics, and campus entertainment such as arts and music.
If financial aid is important to students, start by looking for institutions that meet 100% of financial aid needs. When a student completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the US Department of Education determines if a family is eligible for grants, loans, or co-op funds. School expenses include tuition, room and board, miscellaneous fees and books. These expenses can add up.
Colleges that “fully meet need” will provide admitted students with financial aid sufficient to cover the difference between a college’s tuition and a family’s ability to pay.
Beginning in junior high, students should look into programs in their state that support prospective students. In Missouri, there is a program called A+ that provides scholarships to qualified students attending a public community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools.
Community colleges provide an additional means of affordability and should not be overlooked when looking for a college.
If school designation or type is important, then guide students through the background and history of these institutions. There are public and private schools (including religious schools), historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), minority-serving institutions, and predominantly white institutions.
I spend a lot of time discussing designation. The majority of the students I teach are reluctant to go to university. They are first-generation students, who qualify for Pell grants and have limited knowledge about higher education. Two years of virtual education left them disappointed with the school.
In 2020, there were 107 US HBCUs. Black students who attend an HBCU are 33% more likely to graduate than their peers who attend a non-HBCU of similar size and designation. Additionally, HBCUs account for more graduations among black students.
United Negro College Fund (UNCF) provides information on the benefits of HBCUs for students of color and the need to continue supporting these institutions. The primary goal of HBCUs has been to provide access and opportunity, according to UNCF.
While the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance, some students are surprised that there are still thousands of predominantly white institutions in America. Predominantly white institutions, or PWIs, refer to higher education institutions in which white students represent at least 50% of the workforce. Regardless of historic enrollment decisions, these institutions accept all races and nationalities. Students who choose PWIs can experience racial diversity on campus.
Many students wonder how public and private schools differ. One of the biggest differences is funding. Public colleges are funded by the government, while private schools are more dependent on tuition and endowments.
Refine the choices. Ideally, after students have explored these initial topics, they will narrow down their college choices to 3-5 institutions. From there, students can take an in-depth look at each institution.
I ask them to compare admission requirements, academics, enrollment numbers, expenses, activities, facilities, and post-graduation support through each school’s placement services.
I recommend that students who are considering selective schools such as the Juilliard School, the United States Military Academy, or Vanderbilt University speak to their school counselors. Their selection list may differ, as well as deadlines and documents to be submitted. Remember that fee waivers are available if the application fee is a financial burden.
Ask about college fairs and tours. Finally, students should participate in university fairs whenever possible. Our high school employs academic and career counselors, who plan and coordinate campus visits and bring recruiters to schools for students to meet.
Ideally, it is best for students to arrange in-person tours of the school that most interests them. However, most colleges also offer virtual tours.
Create a scholarship organizer. When students start applying to college, use sites like The Common App and The Common Black College App. Students can use these common applications to apply to multiple colleges at once, but they still have to pay an individual application fee unless they get a fee waiver. Their school counselors can help with fee waivers.
My students regularly look for funding opportunities, so I created a scholarship organizer. I include:
Have a plan. Ultimately, we want students to leave our classrooms with a clear idea of their post-secondary plans. Too many students graduate without a framework for their adult life. This is an endeavor to guide high school students through their college and career plans, but these tips will help teachers ease that transition.
Dr. Kem Smith is from Chalkbeat first advice columnist. She is a full-time 12th grade English teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. Submit your question to Dr. Kem via this submission formand subscribe to how i teach to receive his column in your inbox.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational changes in public schools.