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Another Voice: Choice of college must go beyond facts and figures

By Gerard Turbide

Few decisions in life are as important as selecting the right college. But the questions many families ask and the information they seek during the college search may not always lead them to the best choice.

I remind families (including my own) that finding a good fit is a personal endeavor. Determining which college “feels right” requires that students and parents dig a little deeper, asking questions that take them beyond a fact-finding mission.

The days leading up to the May 1 deposit deadline mark a critical time for prospective students and institutions, alike. Families have been pouring time, money and energy into the process for years, and now might feel like a frantic sprint to the finish. But my advice to families is to take your time and make an informed choice.

The most important questions might not be the most obvious, and the national discourse may be steering families off course. Those of us in the college admission profession see this phenomenon played out every day. We hear a lot of questions focused on metrics: What’s your average SAT score? What’s your tuition? What’s your ranking? These are easily asked and easily answered. But how much do they really tell you about the kind of experience you’ll have at a particular institution?

There’s no shortage of opinion out there about how to choose the right college and what factors should be considered. From President Obama’s proposed College Scorecard rating to the popularity of long-standing rankings from U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly and others, the amount of information can be overwhelming.

But for students on the brink of making this decision, my experience is that the most important questions to ask are ones directed inward:

Will I be challenged here – academically and otherwise? Will I be supported and encouraged here? Will I be well prepared for life? Does it feel right?

I recently spent four hours visiting a campus with my daughter, and as soon as we got in the car to leave she announced she didn’t like it. “It didn’t feel right,” she said. Her response wasn’t based on average SAT scores of the students there, but instead on how she felt on the campus.

Will the outcomes of my education be worth the investment? In answering this question, be sure to broadly define “outcomes.” Employment is certainly an important outcome, but it’s not the only one. Think about what kind of person you want to become and what kind of life you want to live.

The answers to these more weighty questions will be unique to each person, and they won’t be found on a website, or in a guidebook, or in any college’s marketing materials. You owe it to yourself – and the college you attend – to do the homework.

Gerard Turbide is director of admission at Ithaca College.