Factors Influencing the College Search

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This is an interesting time on a college campus. We are in the midst of welcoming our new students through summer orientation and enrichment programs. Student athletes report to campus in less than two weeks. The new semester begins in less than a month.

At the same time, we are actively recruiting the freshman class for Fall 2014. High school students are visiting the campus every day and admissions counselors are preparing for their travel and communications activities.

One of the great mysteries of the college search process is why students prefer one school over another. Is it the impression of the physical campus? Is it the tour guide? Is it the curriculum or academic opportunities? Is it the athletic or cocurricular program? Is it the faculty or staff? The answer is “yes” to all of them.

Last week I conducted a class on leadership for the new students in our summer enrichment program. As they introduced themselves, it was no surprise that most of the students were from New England with a smaller number from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond.

While there is no common answer as to why a prospective student prefers a specific school, a recent ACT report helps us to understand the type of student who is interested in attending a college further away from home.

ACT, formerly known as American College Testing, is one of the two standardized tests administered nationally to high school students and used by many colleges and universities as one of their admissions acceptance variables (the other test is the College Board’s SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test]). In addition to the ACT exam, ACT conducts research and provides other assessment resources for all levels of education.

ACT analyzed data and found that there were two clear correlations. First, the higher a student scored on a standardized exam (like the ACT or the SAT), the further away from home they travelled to attend college. Second, the more education that their parents have, the further away from home their children go to attend their higher education experience. Why?

It is not because higher achieving students want to get away from their parents or more highly educated parents want to send their children away. In fact, parents typically prefer their children to attend college closer to home.

The reasons seem to be related to knowledge, opportunity and confidence. There is evidence that higher achieving students and parents with more education tend to know more about the college admissions process, are aware of more colleges and have the awareness and skill to conduct better research on academic programs, scholarships, etc.

These students and families also tend to have the financial resources needed to both visit colleges further away and to attend these institutions. Finally, they also have more confidence in being away from home and letting their children be further away.

In the end, the college decision process should be about fit. Whether near or far, big or small, it should be the institution that best serves the educational needs and personal values of the student. And there is no single answer for every prospective student.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Monday, 28 July 2014