An excerpt from the book

When to Do What, A Step by Step Guide to the College Process

by Joann Korte Elliott


  1. Academically
  • School should be ‘comfortably challenging’.
  • You want them to find a school that is going to challenge them academically, but not overwhelm to the point of frustration or dropping out
  • Like a good pair of shoes, college should give you a lot of miles. But, if the fit is uncomfortable you will not go far. You want a little room in the toe to grow into it.
  • On the flip side, don’t undershoot academics. Boredom is seldom a path to academic excellence.
  • Balance is key!
  • Make sure students with learning needs have USEFUL support services.
  • Good book to consider: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
  • If students are undecided on a major or career, make sure the college offers a variety of degree programs.
  1. Financially
  • Mix it up!
  • Do not put all your eggs in one basket!
  • If the student can’t afford $60K/year, then put a couple on the list that are in this price range and the others should be less expensive (yet academically challenging) institutions such as public in-state universities and community colleges.
  • Consider neighboring states with in-state tuition offers.
  • Help students create a “Reach / Probable / Back-Up” list.
  • Doing this for financial reasons allows the financial aid process to do its thing and then a student can make a sound financial decision based on the numbers.
  1. Socially
  • Every campus has its own ‘vibe’
  • Encourage students to see if they fit here by asking them to look at and consider the following:
    • Are there enough students here like me that I still feel comfortable?
    • Are there enough students here that are different from me that will allow me to meet others different from myself?
    • Are there clubs, intramurals, living communities, Greek life, etc. that will allow me to get involved?
    • Does this campus have a strong religious or political vibe that feels uncomfortable (or comfortable) for me?
    • Is there enough to do in the community at large that I feel a connection to off campus?
  1. Emotionally
  • Most people forget this category yet emotional support (coupled with learning services support) is one of today’s students’ greatest needs!
  • If a student needed any type of support service during high school—counseling for anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.—those problems do NOT just go away after high school. It is likely they will need ongoing support. The counseling department services at a potential college should be scrutinized carefully by the student and family.
  • For the student who did NOT need support in HS, problems can crop up at any time so they also need to look closely at student support services.
  • No student will survive academically without being supported emotionally!
  1. Geographically
  • For the student who wants colleges at a considerable distance, they also need a geographic ‘back-up’. Something closer to home for the following scenarios that are sometimes unpredictable:
    • Financial reasons that make travel or out-of-state tuition unattainable
    • Parent or Student becomes ill
    • Terrorist attacks
    • Parent loses job
    • Stock market crashes / recession
    • Last-minute anxiety or panic attack; changed mind