Colleges in the United States

March Madness

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March Madness, the annual men’s NCAA basketball tournament, tipped-off this week with an estimated 70 million brackets filled out. Over the next few weeks, about four billion dollars in workplace productivity will be lost. Madness, indeed. Even if you don’t have a connection to any of the schools, it’s still easy to get swept up in the excitement as 68 teams are whittled down to a single champion. As the drama unfolds on TV for our entertainment, try to put yourself in the shoes of the players on the court, the coaches on the sidelines, or the parents in the stands, living and dying with each whistle and each made or missed shot.

As admission decisions from student applications roll in this month, it might be helpful to think about some of the lessons learned from March Madness. Years and years of hard work and sacrifice boil down to a result decided in minutes, or sometimes, seconds. Calls sometimes determined by factors beyond players’ and coaches’ control. Elation from taking the lead with the clock winding down replaced by the devastation from losing it a few seconds later. Teenagers are slowly learning that what feels like the only thing in their world at the moment will one day be looked upon as just another piece of their life’s puzzle—an important piece, but not a defining one.

That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that no one attribute about a school may override all others. Consider the following factors when narrowing down college options.

Quality of Education: From knowledgeable professors to the opportunity to engage in research as early as your freshman year, many students consider the amount of focus that’s placed on undergraduate learning.

Overall Cost: The overall affordability of a college must be analyzed carefully because let’s face it, we are talking about the next four years of tuition, books, meals, etc. Was merit or need-based aid awarded to help contribute to the expenses, and if so, did this make the college affordable? It’s also a good idea to consider graduation rates. It may be in the student’s interest to attend a college that is slightly more expensive as long as they have high 4-year graduation rates as opposed to attending a college with impacted class sizes that could lengthen the time in college.

Location: To stay local or venture on is always a tough factor to consider. Whether you want to stay closer to home, or would prefer to branch out of your comfort zone, this is an important factor. What level of support is provided for out of state students? Are you ready to tackle this level of independence, or would you prefer to be able to drive home at a moment’s notice? Is there easy access to an airport?

Campus Community (areas to consider): Enrollment size; diversity; male versus female; LGBTQ friendly; liberal versus conservative; school spirit; school-sponsored athletics; level of competition; Greek life; clubs; student government; community service opportunities.

Major: Many students select an area of interest on their college applications and if so, will the college you are considering provide a program that will keep you challenged and fulfilled? If not admitted into your first choice major or accepted into a “pre-major,” how difficult is it to switch or gain admission into your major of choice?

Programming: Honors programs; internships; learning labs; disability services; counseling and health care services.

Visiting colleges can be an important part of the process in determining “best fit” for students when selecting their final college choice. The Wall Street Journal’s article on “The Right Way to Choose a College” reminds the reader that what students do during college matters much more than where they go.

Keeping perspective during March Madness is key. Taking a step back and reflecting on the student’s interests and how the above factors match your student is going to set them up for success. So parents, as you watch those acceptances or rejections being read, it might be helpful to remember the big ups and downs from your own life and take solace in the fact that you’ve done everything you can—and will continue to do everything you can—to put your child in a position to succeed. The rest is up to them.