Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (of course, Halloween is a close second, because, candy). But, Thanksgiving is special because it really is a whole season and not just one day. In fact, I like to celebrate for the whole of month of November; not by over-eating, though that happens for sure, but by embracing gratitude. There truly is so much to be thankful for. And because I spend a lot of my time thinking about colleges and universities, right now I’m grateful for strength of our higher educational system. While it might seem like all colleges are the same, especially after completing a college tour of several schools in a row during which the cafeterias all start to look and smell alike, in fact, there is a lot of diversity among the over 3000 colleges in the United States. In North Carolina alone, there are over 100 colleges and those schools reflect many of the characteristics that distinguish colleges from each other. For example, North Carolina has one of the best schools of arts in the country (UNC School of the Arts), three all-women’s colleges (Meredith College, Bennett College, and Salem College), and a public university system consisting of 16 different institutions.
With so many options, it might seem overwhelming to narrow down the choices to a manageable number. Fortunately, there are strategies for conducting a college search that produces a list of schools that reflect each individual student’s priorities. That process starts with personal reflection; not something high school students are that equipped to do. It is hard enough to elicit a thoughtful response to the question, “How was school today?” let alone an answer to “What are you looking for in your college experience?” Therefore, it is important to practice reflective thinking. Students should ask themselves questions such as these:
What do I like about school right now?
Do I like this class because the teacher gives personal attention or because the content is interesting?
When I struggle with a class, do I tend to reach out for help from teachers or my friends or do I look for other sources of help?
Do I do best when I am pushed by my peers in a healthy competitive way, or do I tend to need friendly collaboration and input from others?
How do I spend my time when I’m not studying?
The answers to questions like these can help direct a college search. Students might discover that they thrive in an intense learning environment in which they are surrounded by high achieving students. Other students might realize that competition hinders their ability to learn. Fortunately, there are colleges to fit every type of student and finding an educational culture that best supports each student is part of a comprehensive college search.
Conducting a comprehensive college search is more important than ever; particularly because students are now more mobile, colleges consider demonstrated interest in the application process, and fit makes a difference in retention and graduation rates. Although the process of determining which schools to visit can be difficult, it is now relatively easy to explore campuses beyond a student’s immediate area. Colleges offer tours and informational sessions daily. They also record the student’s visit and use that information to demonstrate that the student is interested in the institution. Finally, finding the right list of schools for each student will help to ensure successful outcomes during and after college.
Of course, I’m grateful for much more than an excellent system of higher education, and I promise I’ll take the time to reflect more deeply, but right now I’ll gladly give thanks for the colleges and universities that help our students pursue their dreams.