Jul 15, 2010

Understanding the College Selection Process

Each year, the staff of the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) surveys incoming freshmen and their families to identify what college characteristics or attributes were most important in their college decision.

“Their responses provide us with insights about differences between parents and students, but also about differences between women [CSB] students and men [SJU],” said Jon McGee, vice president for planning and public affairs, at the recent Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA) conference held on the College of Saint Benedict campus.

Students and parents were presented with a list of 27 factors and asked to indicate how important each was in the college selection process. Factors range from “academic reputation” and “accessible professors” to “selectivity of the college” and “quality of career services and guidance.”

The findings, while specific to the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, offer a fascinating view of what it is that drives college selection. Interestingly, while the vast majority of new students describe the college choice as their own, most parents describe the choice as a “shared” family decision. When given the opportunity to comment about the recruitment and choice experience, parents “frequently use the word ‘we’ to describe both how the choice was made and their college expectations.”

With regard to specific college characteristics, parents are more likely than students to describe “academic reputation” as very important in the selection process. Students are looking for “friendly” people, with men most interested in academic reputation and accessible professors, and women concerned with safety and sense of community. Parents of women are also concerned with safety while parents of men placed “college emphasis on values” high on their list.

Not surprisingly, cost after financial aid was important to everyone. “Jobs of grads” was equally important and topped the list for the students in the SJU incoming class.

“Our research indicates that, on average, parents most value developmental attributes and outcomes: will my child become a functional, independent, successful, self-confident adult?” explained McGee. “Students, on the other hand, value more highly ‘fit’ and feel (emotional) attributes: are the people friendly, what kind of community is this to live in, will I like it here?”

The take-away from this research suggests that as counselors advise students, they must be mindful of the expectations of all parties to the decision, including parents. And not surprisingly, their expectations are not always the same.

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