Deciding on what college or university to attend can be a daunting, challenging and even stressful decision for a young student because there really is no right or wrong answer. And there is no magical algorithm or secret formula to determine which school is “perfect.”
There is only the “best” answer at the time of the decision, and getting there is rarely an easy ride, especially with your parents sitting in the passenger seat trying to take a hold of the wheel.
The No. 1 rule for parents in helping decide where their child should go to college is to HELP them decide – not make the decision for them. Yes, even if you are paying the bill, it’s their decision and their future so they have earned the right to make the right choice.
There are many factors students will use in this decision, and even those will be different for each student. For example, some may want a warmer climate; while others want to stay close to home. Some want a big campus where they can go to the packed football games on Saturday afternoons; while others prefer a small, more intimate setting.
In a recent survey, 80 percent of students pointed to a half dozen reasons behind their final decision: affordability, desired program, career outcomes, reputation/academic quality, value and proximity to home. Other factors include sense of community on campus, flexibility of schedule, real-world experience in curriculum and a feeling they would fit in – never underestimate the feeling aspect.
Michigan is home to some of the most amazing and distinguished colleges, universities and schools of higher learning in the world. And that includes many schools outside of Ann Arbor and East Lansing.
In a recent survey, 80 percent of students pointed to a half dozen reasons behind their final decision: affordability, desired program, career outcomes, reputation/academic quality, value and proximity to home.
Students who know exactly where their passion is and what they want to do in terms of a career, sometimes have an advantage when selecting a school. For example, art and design is a popular and growing field and includes everything from photography and visual arts to interior design and product design and much more. Students interested in this field are more inclined to consider a school that is known for these areas of study such as the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.
College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit also has been a highly successful and rewarding option for students interested in the arts since the school was founded in 1906. CCS has distinguished itself as one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the world and enrolls more than 1,400 students pursuing Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees.
Is your child undecided on what they want to do or what they want to study? A great option close to home would be the ever-expanding Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. EMU offers more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and graduate school.
There also are plenty of smaller school options that offer big-time advantages and options right here in Michigan.
Davenport University in Grand Rapids, with an enrollment less than 6,000, provides a unique approach to education by offering students a career-centered curriculum that helps empower them with real-world experience.
And Rochester University in Rochester Hills, with an enrollment just over 1,000, recently introduced seven new degree programs: Digital Marketing, Financial Planning, Human Resource Management, Health Care Management, Neuroscience, Public Administration, and Sports Management—E-sports and Gaming Administration.
When helping to decide on a major or what field/career to pursue, some long-term research can be beneficial – and this is where a parent can get involved without stepping on any toes. The key is providing information that will be useful and can be factored into the equation such as career opportunities, pay scale, job growth and potential, even locations where these type of jobs can be found.
Once your college-bound student has defined their passion and field of interest, help them better define their goals by showing them data on what they can expect in the job market and earning potential with that degree.
Questions to ask include: what are the most common occupations within an undergraduate major; what percentage of graduates are working in fields directly related to their college major; what percentage of individuals with a particular major are employed full-time, employed part-time, unemployed, or not seeking employment; and how do career paths and earnings shift, within a college major, when age and gender are taken into account?
Oftentimes, students will decide on a double-major – a great way to help reach into other areas of interest and expand your skill set. Double majors that go together include accounting & finance; marketing & communications; law & accounting; computer information systems & marketing/accounting; and economics & political science – just to name a few. Finding the right college degrees that go together could be beneficial down the road.
According to the Brookings Institute, college graduates enjoy greater earning power—on average, about $600,000 more in lifetime earnings—than workers with only a high school education. However, not all college experiences are equal, as graduates of some majors earn significantly more than graduates of others. Typically, “students who have majored in quantitative fields (i.e., STEM) tend to enter more lucrative industries and earn more than students who have studied the arts or humanities,” says Brookings Institute.
One area parents are invaluable in is knowing and understanding their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and concerns. Parents know what their student likes and dislikes about high school — and that probably won’t change over the next four years.
Parents should encourage their teen to do some soul searching before making a list of colleges. Ask them what they like about high school and what they don’t like. For example, do they enjoy classes because of their relationships with their teachers? If so, look for smaller schools that tout faculty mentoring.
Most colleges today focus on student success by supporting the whole student. They provide a variety of activities, resources, and facilities for students, such as academic support services, access to fitness centers, a variety of clubs and athletics, and career centers, to name just a few. Also, as careers, professions, and technologies have changed, so have the types of courses and programs offered, and the ways in which they’re offered (such as having online classes). It’s important for parents and their prospective student to determine what their “must haves” are, to help with their decision-making.
Parents shouldn’t stress about finding the so-called perfect college because, in truth, there is no perfect college — but hopefully there are a few colleges that appear to be a good fit for your child. Be a guide for your child, but understand that the ultimate decision is theirs — and make sure they know that by being a good, supportive passenger and keeping your hand off the steering wheel.