Selecting a college to attend ranks among the most important decisions that your children will face in young adulthood. While many parents want to control this decision, I encourage you to enter it jointly with your child. It is their life and they ultimately have to live with the consequences of that choice. My children both made very different selections than I would have made at their age, but then I raised them to be much more mature and self sufficient than I was. As homeschoolers, their education was far superior to mine and therefore prepared them for much more challenging fields and equipped them to compete at top schools.
While it is true that you can survive anything for four years and youth makes you very resilient, I still counsel students to think about who they are and what they like before any serious college search begins.
Is your Student a “City Kid” or a “Country Kid?”
I don’t mean where they were raised, but where their heart feels at home. City kids thrill to the big city sounds of sirens, the throbbing pulse of the crowd, the excitement of countless museum exhibits. They might pick a campus in the heart of New York or Boston. All this noise and confusion will shut a country kid down. It feels threatening. Country kids need room to breath, green spaces, places of retreat. They might pick a campus that is either outside a city or is very spacious and private within a city.
Does Weather Affect your Student?
It certainly is a factor for some kids. One student, after visiting Boston, made the comment, “Everything was grey – the sky, the buildings, the people!” He needed sun and wisely chose southern California. He would have been miserable in Cambridge or Chicago. Some students choose to go somewhere very different from home just for experience and that’s great, as long as they realize what they have to deal with. Be aware that most college visits are made when the weather is great. The same campus in the throes of winter is a very different place.
Does your Student want People or Privacy?
Those extraverts with a host of friends might choose a large campus with thousands of incoming freshmen. There is always somebody new to meet and something exciting going on. There are countless clubs to join, but possibly few opportunities for meaningful research or relationships with professors. The chance of being taught by TA’s (and not professors) is much higher here with class sizes numbering in the hundreds. Ironically, there is also the chance for anonymity on a large campus; no one knows your business unless you want them to.
If your student thrives on deep relationships with a few individuals and likes knowing everyone he meets on campus, a small school would be a better choice. Here administrators and professors know you by name and you get more personalized attention and opportunity for specialized projects. There will be fewer options for majors and a smaller selection of classes. The smallness is a cocoon for some and claustrophobic for others. You can’t hide here, everyone knows you.
What is your Student’s Personality?
Even more important than the logistical and environmental issues is the deeply embedded personality of your student:
Are they resilient?
Can they bounce back from failure repeatedly?
Are they flexible and able to live with (and love) people with very different values, morals, and beliefs than their own?
Is your student tenacious?
Can they hang on to their dreams despite opposition and obstacles?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” they are not ready for the challenge of a cold, hard, intellectual campus experience. You must search hard for the truly Christian campus that will give them time to mature.