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Finding The Right College: Beat The Intimidation Factor


Girl doing homeworkYou’ve heard me say that “fit” is the most essential factor in choosing a college. One issue of fit that doesn’t appear on most college planning checklists is beating the intimidation factor. No one wants to admit it, but many aspects of college life are intimidating. Even if we ignore the social issues of making new friends, dating, dealing with alcohol and drug use on campus, and fitting in, there are still academic factors that may intimidate some students keeping them from doing or achieving at their peak.

Large School Bureaucracy

Some students aren’t discouraged by the seeming endless bureaucracy at some large state universities. I always joke that this is the kid who if we dropped him off on the moon and came back in six months he would have built a space station and colonized the martians. But most 18 year olds don’t have that savvy or persistence.

Dealing with housing, financial aid, declaring a major, academic advising, or student affairs can turn into an all day event at some schools as you get bounced from one office to another. It can be challenging to find the right person to help solve a problem. This type of large school bureaucracy can be intimidating.

Some students need a more personalized environment in which to become independent. They aren’t ready to be dropped off on the moon just yet.

Consider a smaller campus environment if your student:

Is more comfortable having someone explain requirementsLearns best by asking questions and participating in discussion
Is easily frustrated or tempted to give up when having to work through layers of bureaucracy to get something done.
Tends to keep to themselves.
Needs constant reminders.

Academic Intimidation

What type of student were you? Were you leading class discussion? Always ready to volunteer? Or were you a little more reserved? Tempted to sit in the back of the room? Academic environment can be the difference between a student just getting by or excelling.

Academic environment in college depends on class size, competitiveness of students, accessibility of faculty, how classes are taught, and how grades are determined. Some students will be successful in any environment, but most will find some degree of academic intimidation.

Beating college intimidation in an academic environment requires self-awareness. Take time to help your student identify his or her strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. When visiting college campuses ask, “Is this the environment in which my child will be academically successful?”

Here are some situations in which I’ve seen choice of school help (or hurt) a student’s academic success:

  • A very smart, but quiet female student who wanted to major in physics chose a school where she wouldn’t be one of the only women in the department. She later said this was key to her success because she felt comfortable.
  • A hard working student went to a large state university on a scholarship, but found all his classes had multiple-choice tests given on the computer. He wasn’t a strong test taker and had a C average his first two years. Once the classes got smaller junior year and he had more short answer and essay exams, he got all As and Bs.
  • A student who graduated in the top 3% of her class went to a highly-selective university. She found the other students were so cut-throat and competitive that she started to hate school. She just wanted to learn and do well for herself, not compete.

I have dozens of other examples of students who needed smaller classes, more interaction with professors, fewer multiple-choice tests, a more welcoming environment, etc. The point is that you get to choose. Students are often stuck with the style of education and learning they have in high school, but in college families can find the school that fits the student.

Finding the right college is about finding the school that fits that particular student. Most families think about location, cost, and specific majors or activities. It is important to consider how your student will respond to the campus bureaucracy and academic environment. Helping students avoid intimidation in their college environment leads to greater success once they are in college.

Have any Questions or Comments?

2 comments on “Finding The Right College: Beat The Intimidation Factor

Thank you, Megan, for posting on a topic most parents don’t think about. Unfortunately, the ratings culture we live in don’t measure the real factors that should be investigated to see if a child will work to her/his potential at a school. Although I graduated from a large institution, I recommended small, liberal arts schools to my daughters and friends with daughters. Even if the child could colonize the moon, she will likely perform better and have a richer experience in a well-chosen liberal arts college.

With the financial markets back at all-time highs, we found that scholarship offers were better this year than in the past. The “net cost” to the family is often lower than that of an out of state public university. All parents should encourage their child to have one or more small, liberal arts colleges on their list to investigate.

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