In any endeavor, having a strategy means having a plan. Any plan should be well conceived and well researched in order to identify key factors then make decisions that lead to the highest probability of success. The same is true for formulating a plan for college. Yet too many students engage in little or no planning, and often wind up with poor outcomes for college.
So, what does “College Strategy” mean?
It Means You Have A Plan
“College strategy” means that you have an effective plan for college. You understand that just picking a school based on its popularity, sports teams, or because your guidance counselor gave you some names of places where you could “get in” are not the best ways to approach higher education. In a recent three part study sponsored by the Gates Foundation, students who did poorly in college engaged in little or no planning, and rated their guidance counselors low on critical issues related to planning for college. Students who want to attend college need to have a plan, and should expect to develop it on their own.
You Know The Factors For Success And Failure
There are many well-known factors for college success and potential problems that most people have never heard of. Do you know what “student engagement” is and why it’s important? How do you find out a college’s graduation rates? Who does better in college, boys or girls? Who’s more at risk of having problems? These are not closely kept secrets held by colleges but information that is available to you. In most cases students and families are just never told what they need to know to make good decisions. You need to “qualify yourself” to make good decisions for college by knowing the factors that can come in to play and need to be considered.
You Use Effective Decision Making
An effective college strategy means making effective decisions. Decisions are based on the research that you’ve done in order to give a high probability of student success. Student success includes earning a bachelor’s degree, preferably in four years, with a later entry in to a career that they desire. Ineffective decision making stands in contrast to this, where decisions are often made on non-success factors like sports that they want to play, college popularity, or “safe plays” like community colleges. Ineffective decision making can lead to academic problems, lack of student direction, and parents paying for additional years of college, which is now the norm. There is a wealth of knowledge available on what leads to positive outcomes for college, and an effective college strategy is based on this.
You Know What’s Going On In College
Nearly all parents and students that I work with tell me that, during high school, no one ever told them about the state of higher education in the U.S. Currently, the U.S. ranks 15th out of 29 nations in college graduation rates, with only 36% of students (on average) finishing a bachelor’s degree in four years. College has become increasingly expensive, and students are taking longer to graduate. An effective college strategy intends to reduce graduation times, and therefore costs, to students and families.
You Avoid The Pitfalls Of College
Among the many pitfalls, a clear one of college planning is “admissions-only” thinking. Every high school student that I’ve worked with said that their guidance counselor essentially gave them a list of schools that matched their GPA and SAT scores, usually from a formulaic computerized system. Over-focusing on getting in to college essentially ignores the fact that a student must actually graduate from college. An effective college strategy considers admissions, but focuses more on other aspects related to success while they’re there. This view considers many more factors than a student merely being accepted.
You Address Specialized Issues
Students transitioning from high school to college often have specialized issues that must be addressed. A very common one that I work with is a student with disability who wants to attend college. In high school, students might receive an IEP or a 504 plan to gain accommodations and then believe that they will automatically get accommodations while in college. This is simply not true. Why? Because the rules are different in college. It is completely up to the college to decide whether the student needs accommodations or not, and I’ve seen students be denied accommodations at some colleges even if they had an IEP and recommendations from their physician. I even spoke with a school’s accrediting body, and they said they would not even hear appeals on accommodation issues. Because the college gets to decide who gets accommodations, this makes finding the right college paramount for a student with a disability. Students and parents have unanimously told me that no one ever mentioned this to them during high school. They were given a list of schools they might “fit,” without any regard to whether they could get accommodations once they were there. Many students only found out after it was too late, often once classes started and they’d moved to campus.
Having an effective “college strategy” means that you have an effective plan that goes beyond the conventional thinking about college. Think of it as a “college success plan” that can ultimately increase the likelihood of a student doing well in college and prevent mistakes. It should also serve an educational function, since too often students and parents are not informed of key issues during high school. Because I work with students who are in college, my focus is on “the destination,” and I can bring a lot of information to the college planning phases that parents and students otherwise would not have. Having an effective college strategy means knowing what lies ahead so that good decisions can be made to minimize problems and maximize student success.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national level Higher Education Consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s worked with students and parents across the U.S. about college issues since 2001, and is a member of CSRDE that focuses on best practices in helping students. He is also a member of NACADA, the national college advising association in the U.S. Please see the program page for services Jeff offers.