Deciding to attend college is a major and expensive decision. Parents and students alike want to be confident they’ve made the best decision when stepping on campus for the first day of classes or logging onto their virtual course for the first time.
But how does one determine if their college of interest is the best fit?
According to Rick Bischoff, vice president for enrollment management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and Connie Disbro, coordinator for the online MBA program at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, prospective students have some research ahead of them to help determine fit.
“They first need to reflect on who they are, how they learn and the kind of community they want to be part of,” Bischoff said. “What is important in their lives right now? Do they love spending time in the city or a stroll in the country? What are those experiences that bring them joy, and can you continue those or others like them in college? Make sure they teach you what you want to study.”
Disbro said many people tend to start with a university’s website. Though a good place to start, she suggested they take the research a step further into the real world.
“I always suggest they go to the campus if they can,” she said. “When I decided to get my MBA, I spoke to the program coordinator and that was the selling point for me – actually meeting and talking to individuals and asking questions, getting a feel for the campus. It can go a long way in determining if you can really see yourself there. That is something still so important, even with all of our modern technology.”
Both professionals said having that knowledge of how you fit at a school is key to the decision-making process.
“The most obvious thing is college costs a lot of money, so you don’t want to be in a situation where you start and realize it isn’t the right fit for you,” Disbro explained. “For example, say you’re halfway through the semester but can’t get out of classes or receive a full refund, or even your credits won’t transfer. Most universities are working on becoming more flexible when it comes to transferring credits, but courses may end up being redundant or unneeded at a new school.”
Disbro added a bad experience at one school could discourage a student from trying another in fear it’d be the same there.
“I know it takes time and effort to research, but it does pay off,” she said.
But there isn’t just one perfect school for every situation, Bischoff said. Many schools could be the right fit for any given student.
“(Students) aren’t searching for their only true love,” he noted. “However, they want to be sure that a school is going to offer the experience they are looking for and that they are going to have some shared values with enough of the college community so they will connect and build relationships.”
Both universities boast open lines of communication with prospective and current students when it comes to fit, both academically and socially.
Disbro said BGSU encourages students to set meetings with program coordinators, whether that is in person, over the telephone or online. Keeping their website up to date, she said students should prepare questions before their meetings to make sure everything they want to know gets answered.
Bischoff suggested students also read between the lines.
“Colleges are doing lots of online sessions where students can hear from and interact with students, faculty and staff,” he said. “If students pay attention to not just the information, but the tone and style, you’ll see differences among colleges pretty quickly.”
Should a student find themselves struggling to find their place in a school they thought was the right fit, Bischoff and Disbro had advice.
“I always tell students to not make a quick decision,” Disbro said. “We don’t want them to rush into things. We also have students who are transitioning into new life decisions and feel like they don’t belong, so we suggest they take some time and talk to someone about that.”
Bischoff added, “Don’t give up too quickly. Most students take a while to find their place, but of course, none of them tell their friends. In reality, most take a while to hit their stride. If, however, a place really isn’t a good fit for you, you can transfer to another college. There is no shame in transferring.”