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Assessment tools help you narrow your college choices

Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

With more than 3,000 colleges to choose from, it's easy to understand how students and parents can become overwhelmed. It's all about finding the right fit and that takes some serious homework.

If your student intends to both study and live somewhere for four years, longer in many cases, it is worth doing the research up front and identifying several colleges that represent a good fit, both academically and socially.

Why is it important to find the right fit?

Of course you want your child to be happy. But with current college costs ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per year you also want to make sure they stay in school and graduate.

Nationally, only 68 percent of students who immediately enter college after high school are enrolled at that same institution by their sophomore year. They drop out, or priorities change. There is no “one perfect school” for anyone. Students and parents need to remain open-minded throughout the search. It is important to discard preconceived notions, hearsay and folklore about colleges. This is especially true for parents who tend to recall reputations of colleges from their own earlier experiences. Remember, a lot has changed since then.

So, how do you streamline the college search? Break down the process and develop a strategy to narrow choices.

The first step is a self-assessment that should include basics such as: identifying academic interests and social needs (Greek life/athletics) as well as setting and location preferences.

Many students don't know how or where to begin this part of the process. Free online assessment tools are available: www.collegeboard.com, www.princetonreview.com or www.collegedata.com.

College Board's “College Match Maker” starts students off with 3,842 colleges and then through the process of elimination (SAT range, geography, size, clubs offered, etc.) winnows the list. Princeton Review's “Counselor-O-Matic” posts similar questions but in a more user-friendly format. CollegeData's “College Match” is a bare-bones six questions.

While these assessments might turn up some hidden gems, most students will find their time better spent by reviewing a college guidebook (Princeton Review, Fiske Guide to Colleges and Barron's Profiles of American Colleges) and starting with a few colleges that “feel right.”

Next week, I'll share an exercise that will help home in on the most important factors to consider in the search.

Lee Bierer is an independent college counselor based in Charlotte. Send questions to lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com, www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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