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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

College Visits Worth Making

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS
Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Choosing a college is a complex tasks. Many people focus on external factors like reputation or rankings but fail to do the in-depth student focused analysis required in order to identify colleges where your teen can not merely get a degree but can also thrive during his or her college years. Students who thrive graduate with more confidence and are better prepared to deal with life after college with all its opportunities and challenges.

Students need to be engaged, connected, challenged, and cared about. On campus, these needs can be met in various ways. Ideally, they are met in through a variety of experiences. Every student is different so the optimal cluster of opportunities will vary significantly from student to student. Nonetheless, there are several modalities common between them.

Academic connections can be built with other students, professors, graduate students, tutors, as well as through clubs, internships, research and exploratory opportunities, and short and long term off campus trips of various kinds. Rich, lively discussion groups (both academically focused and interdisciplinary) are actively fostered in and out of the classroom on some campuses. These can be manifested through honors colleges, living/learning communities, and other campus groups. Explore those in his or her field of interest. Find some that appeal to your teen. Even introverts need to have some connections!

Becoming connected, challenged, and cared for can also happen through the faith community on campus. Working together to serve the poor, to pray, to deepen one's faith, to prepare for worship services, to go on retreats and mission trips and the like are all examples of ways nurturing relationships can be built on campus. Don't forget to visit the Newman center or campus ministry office when you visit campus. Does it feel like a "home away from home" for your student?

Intramural sports, clubs of various kinds, and other ad hoc groups on campus can also be a rich source of affirmation and belonging for students. These are often completely unrelated to academics, which can provide a healthy balance. After all, even the most dedicated students are not studying machine, but are human beings! Whether it's quidditch, golf, swing dancing, chess, kite flying, or something else, encourage your teen to find his or her niche on campus.

Lastly, immersive educations which include high impact practices often make a decided difference between attending college and thriving on campus. Unfortunately, many, many collegians never have even one of these experiences. Look for them as you explore perspective colleges: internships, service learning, hands on learning, project based learning, study abroad, and other experiential learning opportunities. These have been shown to have a positive and often profound impact on students' lives. Finding good mentors (academic, personal, spiritual, etc.), being involved in long term projects and activities, forming connections in multiple campus communities also have a significant impact on students' well-being and college outcomes.