One factor that is often overlooked in college selection is the likelihood that a particular student will do well in different types of college environments. Colleges can differ from each other tremendously in terms of course difficulty, culture, grading policies, support services, length of academic terms and modes of instruction.
There are also differences in terms of the student body. If a student with a 3.2 GPA is admitted to a college where the average student had a high school GPA of 3.7, those are the students with whom that 3.2 GPA student will compete for grades in college classes. In this scenario, the 3.2 GPA student is likely to be at a disadvantage.
Families should start a college search by asking what type of environment is ideal for the needs of their student. A student from a small private high school with a significant learning challenge needs a college environment that is not overwhelming in size and that provides good support services. A student who is shy is likely to be more comfortable in a smaller college with a supportive staff and friendly student body. A student from a large high school is going to be more comfortable in a college that has a student body at least a little larger than the student body from high school. Some students need to attend a college located within a few hours of home. Others may be more comfortable commuting and living at home. While some students will welcome the challenge of a fast-paced quarter system, others need the length of a semester to be most successful.
Students and their families should avoid making college decisions based on institutional prestige, location or cost alone. Rather, choose a college that is a good fit on all counts. Such colleges are located within the distance tolerance of the student, are affordable, have a culture that is comfortable for the student, offer support services appropriate to student needs and have academic programs and policies that fit student interests and skill level.
To help students do well in the college they have chosen, it is a good idea to help them understand what new behaviors college work will require, what study skills they need and to make sure they have the tools they will need to do their best.