Like each student, every college has a unique spirit or character. As your family begins the college search, it will be important to focus on finding the right match for your teen's needs and personality, your family's goals for education, and the offerings of prospective schools.
Before you begin a serious search, discuss as a family what you want in a Christian college. Think about the qualities that are most important to you and your student. For example, what size school might your child like best? What kind of location would work best? Would a Bible college be the best place to foster his or her goals, or a liberal arts college?
Preferences, personalities and interests usually determine what type of school is best for particular students. Make sure your student's top-choice colleges offer the courses of study that most interest him or her, but realize that many students change majors at least once before graduation.
Student-to-faculty ratios may be important to you. The ideal college has a low student/faculty ratio and a high percentage of faculty members who have earned top degrees in their fields. In the best colleges, professors teach even freshmen in reasonably small classes.
Campus activities and the proximity of colleges to towns, cities and recreational areas are other factors to weigh in your decision. Students need convenient places to buy reasonably priced toiletries, clothing and supplies. They also need places to go off-campus to spend their free time.
For on-campus activities, are freshmen allowed to participate in meaningful ways? Find out which intercollegiate and intramural sports the college has. Are there facilities for swimming, tennis, volleyball and working out? If a college and its community don't have all your student's favorite activities, ask your child which ones he or she is willing to live without during the school year.
Investigate the possibilities for internships and foreign study. Most colleges provide opportunities for service in the local community and through mission or service trips. Ask about the institution's relationship with the local neighborhood. How do the people in town view the college? Are students welcomed into their homes and churches? Ask whether the colleges conduct regular chapels and how often. Find out what sorts of speakers they invite and whether student attendance is required.
The students on campus are important to consider, too. How many are there, and what is their average age? What is the male/female ratio? How do most students compare academically with yours? Compare your student's SAT/ACT scores with those of average freshmen in each college. This information is readily available in college guides. Ideally, your student will be challenged but not overwhelmed.
As you consider the costs of different schools, start with some fairly straightforward information, like costs of tuition and room and board. Also, ask a financial aid officer to estimate the cost of textbooks. Most of these costs will increase each year. Ask your student to call the financial aid office to find out which school-based scholarships and other financial aid he or she might qualify for. Then determine whether the amounts are high enough to make the school affordable. Also check on the availability of part-time jobs, either on campus or in the surrounding area.
Factor in costs for transportation and supplies as well. For colleges that are far from home, determine your student's travel options and the average prices for transportation to and from school. Don't forget to include holidays and mid-semester breaks. Estimate costs for bedding and supplies, and incidentals like storage space, which can keep you from needing to ship items back and forth.