College Choices: Who Can You Rely On?

Making smart decisions about college isn't always easy, so it's natural to seek out some help.  Students typically turn to family members, peers, coaches, teachers, and counselors.  Each of these my have particular advantages, but there may be disadvantages with each group too, and these may not be readily apparent.

One of the biggest issues I see is that many trusted adults in these groups will be strongly inclined to view your through the filter of their own personal biases.  A few examples would be:

  • the peer who talks you into going to their first-choice college
  • the coach who promotes their idea of your best chance in terms of athletics
  • the parent who stresses a "prestige" school
  • the teacher who suggests their alma mater is clearly your best choice
  • the counselor who pushes you towards a four-year school

Let me be really clear about this.  In each of these examples, the party involved might be promoting your very best interests.  At the least, I think it's likely that they believe they are doing so.

On the other hand, each of them almost certainly has personal biases.  Can you expect a peer to discount his or her choice when advising you?  Or a coach to discount the importance of athletics?  And let's not let the counselors off easy.  I remember a supervisor's recommendation on an evaluation I received years ago.  It read as follows:
"Increase the percentage of students accepted to 2 and 4 year colleges."
Reading that again, it's not too hard for me to imagine a counselor feeling pressured to push their students in a particular direction.  Was I guilty of that?  I don't think so, but can I swear that it never influenced me on even a subconscious level?  No, I can't.

On top of personal biases, any of those offering advice may be dealing with critical knowledge gaps as well.  I'm the first to say that community college is a probably the best choice for many of our students, but since I know about the Bridging the Gap program at Rutgers Camden, that has to be factored into the decision process for some of my students.

Do you suppose that every coach, parent, teacher, and student in the area knows of that program.  I doubt it.

In the end, it's probably best for students to talk to a variety of people about college plans, but recognize that as they will have to live with their choice through college and beyond, the decision is one that cannot be fully "outsourced."