The students and families who have the most success in the decision process are willing to begin by looking at different learning environments. 

It would be an excellent foundation for the college process if a student had the chance to see a small liberal arts college, a large research university, a school with a heavy focus on co-ops or internships, and a mid-sized school which offers a mix of course sizes and academic opportunities. Depending on a student’s interests, it might also mean visiting a polytechnic or technically-focused college, a conservatory, an art school, a military academy or school, or a college geared to a particular field of study.

Students also need a chance to observe the learning happening on campus. If your child has a particular major or field in mind, it would be ideal if she or he were able to observe a class in that subject area, but even an entry-level English or mathematics class should give her or him a sense of how learning is happening there. 

Here are eight important things for you and your child to consider:

• Is the class a size in which she or he feels comfortable learning? It can feel a bit like something from Goldilocks: “too big, too small or just right.”

• Is your child comfortable with the format of the class? Is it a discussion-based class? Lecture? Tutorial? Lab? Obviously, not all of her or his classes would be in this same format, but it is worth asking how many classes for a typical student are conducted in each of the formats.

• Who teaches the class: a professor or a teaching assistant? Does this matter to your child? 

• Does the way in which the professor or teaching assistant interact with the students fit your child’s capabilities as a learner?

• Are students able to ask questions during class? Discuss the topic at hand? Work in a group with other students? Which of these are good learning modes for your child?

• How prepared are the students to engage in the class? Are students showing evidence of preparing material for discussion, lecture, or asking questions? Do students present material or direct any of the learning themselves?

• What kind of access to the professor or teaching assistant do the students have outside of class? Office hours? Meeting times? Tutorial sessions?

• Does the learning situation in this class feel manageable to your child? Could she or he be a successful learner in this environment?

Learning is a two-way street, so your child is going to want to look for both what the teacher and class situation offers to students and what the students are contributing to the learning situation. 

When your child has found the right learning environment or environments, as she or he might feel comfortable in more than one,  the college search process will be easier and more directed. Your child will have a standard with which to measure schools focused on her or his own learning capabilities, needs and wants. 

Jennifer Beros is Director of College Counseling at University School

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