There are thousands of colleges to choose from in the United States. When you include trade schools, community colleges, international universities and gap year programs, the number of options can be overwhelming. Where should students and parents begin?
Life Principles and Family Values
For most students, the college search starts in earnest during junior year of high school. That’s when they start taking college entrance exams, visiting campuses and talking with college admissions representatives. However, the college search can begin much sooner than that. For families wanting to get a head start on the college search, the best place to begin is at the dinner table.
Whether your children are still in grade school, middle school or are months away from graduation, it’s never too late to talk about life principles and family values. The foundational ideas that most assist a student in discerning where to go to college are most often formed within the family. As the family sits together, such as at the dinner table, the child acquires a sense of the person they are and the person they will become. A student who knows himself or herself well is able to weed out most colleges and hone in on the colleges that are best suited to assist them on their journey to becoming the person God is making them to be.
Articulating Your Principles
Clapham School provides a free College Guidance Checklist available on our website under the Resources tab. At the end of the checklist is a Personal Inventory with questions students can answer to begin articulating what the important aspects of college are for them. How far from home are they willing to go? How important is it for the college to be a Christian school? How large do they want their classes or campus to be? What setting, urban or rural, do they envision for themselves? How important is cutting edge research for them? Is the social dynamic of the school important? Are there extracurricular experiences they expect during their college days? Answers to these kinds of questions particularize which schools fit the student’s profile.
After working through the Personal Inventory, students and parents should sit down together to discuss the answers. The goal is for parents and child to be on the same team during the college journey. Notice that most of the questions force the student to articulate values and principles. Some of the answers are negotiable, but others will become core values that must be in place in order for a college to be considered.
Example Stories of a Principled Approach
Take for instance a student who has discerned with the help of her parents and guidance from her teachers that in order to achieve her goal of serving Christ in an urban setting through some sort of counseling ministry, she should find a Christian college that’s located in a large city with a good psychology program. Many of these values and principles were formed during family discussions, what she’s learned in school and through church service opportunities, well before she started her college search. She knows herself well, and she can use that sense of purpose and direction to find a set of colleges that fit her profile.
Another example involves a young man who has been inspired by the military service of his dad, his uncle and his grandfathers. He has wanted to go to one of the military academies since he was a boy. At school he’s excelled at writing. He’s taken a couple of short-term missions trips with his church. All of these experiences lay the groundwork for his values and principles to guide him in his search for the military academy that will best serve him. In talking with his parents, he discerned that he should have a few non-military schools in mind as well, not just because they are back-up options, but because he can see a pathway to his future goals through them as well.
Beginning with principles is the best way to begin a search for the right college. Obviously there are tactical moves that need to be made, such as taking college entrance exams, writing application essays, talking with college professors and searching for scholarships. Our College Guidance Checklist includes most of these tactical moves. However, it is the principles that place each of these tactical moves within the greater context of the student’s journey not just to college but to the life he or she is crafting through the guidance God provides.