College Visit Planning for Families & Small Groups

Looking Beyond the College Rankings

rightfit_brLast week I attended a presentation given by Marty O’Connell, Executive Director of Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. (CTCL).

CTCL is a “non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process.” Their goal is to “help each student find a college that cultivates a lifelong love of learning and that provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college. CTCL was founded as a result of a book of the same name, Colleges That Change Lives, researched and written by former New York Times education editor Loren Pope.

The topic for the evening was “Looking Beyond the Rankings,” and it was exciting for me to hear someone with years of direct experience in higher education and college admissions talk to families about the importance of a student conducting a search with the goal of “fitting” with the college, regardless of the published rankings and the idea of having to attend one of the “top” universities or liberal arts colleges. Much of what she discussed reinforced my own philosophy and the way that I guide my students through the college search process. In upcoming posts I will address how we search for that “fit.”

But for today I want to mention my biggest takeaway for the evening. Ms. O’Connell brought up the issue that is front-of-mind for so many parents right now – the cost of a college education and the problem for new graduates of finding a job. Yet, there are many students who are graduating with jobs and others are gainfully employed within six months of graduation. And, it’s not necessarily those that have graduated with specific majors that many think are the ones in demand – or those that have graduated from the “name-brand” schools.

So, who are the college graduates that are getting the jobs? According to Ms. O’Connell it is those students that because of the right “fit” are able engage and become an integral part of their college community. Through various outlets – academic, social, cultural – they have become creative, critical and strategic thinkers. These are traits that employers today are looking for.

For instance, let’s take the example of graduate business schools. Many students think that it will give them an edge to major in business as an undergrad. But in many cases, this isn’t true. Many schools prefer to accept students that can think on their feet and display creative problem-solving skills. The same may be said for corporations that are looking to recruit soon-to-graduate or recent graduates. For instance, a while back I attended an information session for Dartmouth College that was held at Google. One of the speakers was a recent graduate of Dartmouth who now works for Google. His undergraduate major was history. He is not doing a job that has anything to do with history, but Google was looking for someone with a well-rounded education that has the ability to disseminate information effectively, come up with creative ideas, and be able to work as part of a team. While perhaps some of them were innate, his being able to engage in his college community enhanced these skills.

As your teens go through the college search process, you might suggest to them that they talk to people they know that are gainfully employed and happy with what they are doing. Did they go to college? If so, have them ask what the most important aspects were that they took away from their experiences there. It may help them to better understand what aspects of college life they should be looking for in addition to academics.

Janice Caine

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