We all tend to compare things and experiences to what we know when we make decisions. Sometimes this is a good thing, but when it comes to deciding what college a student will attend, using this method can be counterproductive.
No matter where a student goes to college, the academics are much more difficult than they were in high school. There are no class participation and notebook grades to enhance the final grade in the class. Usually, it’s two or three tests, get a good grade (hopefully), and move on to the next class. Even the strongest academic students often experience difficulty transitioning to college-level work. Many receive grades freshman year that are below what they are used to.
When deciding on the college the student will attend, it is crucial to make sure the student is in the academic environment that matches his or her ability. Students need to be ready for college writing (see Academic Resources College Writing Workshop for current high school seniors), know how to study for exams, and get the help they need from the available resources to ensure their grades improve or remain as high as they are accustomed to while they were in high school.
In high school, students can go home after their day is over. Sometimes this is a good thing because a break from their peers is necessary. In college, however, the students will be surrounded by their peers 24/7: there is no escape. Therefore, it is important that students are in a college environment in which they are comfortable, where their peers are like them academically and socially, otherwise they may be in for a big surprise. Experiencing a different geographic or social environment can be a great thing. However, before attending a college with these attributes, students need to asses how difficult this transition will be for them and decide if they will be able to do the things necessary to assimilate well.
In short, ignore them!! Use them to get names that can be researched and considered, but not to create a college list. No one reads the “small type” explaining the details and methods used to rank the colleges. And doing so is critical. Don’t look for “expert” advice from sources that are not familiar with the strengths and challenges the student possesses. No matter what college you hear about, there are always good and bad stories that come from many different sources. A ranking does not ensure success in college or beyond. But being in the right academic and social environment can allow the student to take advantage of all the college and community have to offer and make for a complete college experience.
College is not high school. You need to evaluate colleges using criteria that you haven’t used before. Talk to as many students on campus as you can to understand their experiences, challenges, and transition stories. You may also want to talk with some adults who have been there and done that before. I know that sounds crazy but they are living proof that it is the college environment and experience that helped them be successful, not the college name.