College decisions – Class of 2014

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By Liz Stucke


Which would you prefer: a choice among five different jams or a choice among twenty different jams?  Most people according to Sheena Iyengar in her book The Art of Choosing, say they would prefer a choice among twenty jams.  However, in her famous “Jam Study” she found that when presented with twenty different jams, customers did not buy any at all.  They walked away, overwhelmed and unable to make any decision.  The same happened when employees were presented with hundreds of funds from which to choose for their 401K plan.  Employees were so overwhelmed they delayed the decision and ended up not enrolling at all.  Conversely when the choices were narrowed down to a manageable number, customers were more likely to either purchase a jam or select funds for their 401K.  Similarly, when your teenager walks away from making decisions about where to apply to college, it could be he is overwhelmed with too many choices.


“A good college decision needs to be the right decision for your child, distinct from that of her friends and siblings. ”


How can you help your son or daughter make good decisions about where and how to apply to college?  Break down the decision into four phases to help narrow-down the choices: Assess, Plan, Apply, Decide.

Breaking Down the Decision into four phases – Assess, Plan, Apply, Decide:

1. Assess:  (Approximately January through March)

A Look Inward: In this phase your child takes stock of her interests and strengths. A good way to start this is by creating the Activity Sheet or resume.  In creating her Activity Sheet, encourage your child to identify which of her activities she found most interesting and rewarding.  This, along with some brainstorming questions about favorite and least favorite classes, moments she felt most challenged or proud, helps her identify her interests and strengths.

A Look Outward: Then she will need to begin to identify those traits she will want in a college, such as particular major or academic interest, athletics, size of classroom, distance from home, campus culture, among many other traits.  Do not worry if she is not sure about which traits she desires.  The important part is to write these traits down so that she can revisit and revise it as she explores various options.

2. Plan:  (Approximately March through June)

Overlapping the first phase, the next phase is for your child to plan and test his strengths, interests and traits.  The plan should involve creating a timeline for researching colleges, narrowing down choices and visiting various schools. This is also the time to test whether or not a desired trait, such as living in a big city, is important to him after he visits a few schools.  Help your child create a spreadsheet listing the desired traits down the left side of the sheet and the colleges across the top.  Then use one of the many college search sites such as The College Board, US News and Naviance to narrow down schools to research.  These sites allow your child to plug in desired traits, test scores and GPA to find potential matches.  Then mark whether each school meets the desired traits.  Leave space for notes as sometimes it becomes apparent that a certain trait is not as important as once believed.

3. Apply:  (Approximately July through November).

The final decision of where to apply should be a match of your child’s strengths, interests and desired traits with a college that can meet his needs and goals.  Considering that some of the most selective colleges accept less than 15% of applicants, his list of colleges should include some likely, middle range and stretch schools.  Having worked through the assessment and planning phase, he will be better prepared to present a focused applicant in his personal statements, interviews, teacher recommendation and full application.

4. Decide: (by May 1)

A good college decision needs to be the right decision for your child, distinct from that of her friends and siblings.  While emotions and last minute jitters might sway a student to choose the school either closest to home or the one her friends choose, you will be better equipped to guide her to the best decision if she worked through the assessment and planning phases to identify her unique interests, strengths and desired college traits.


Liz Stucke is owner of LS Admissions Prep (  She guides students and parents through the College Search and Application process. or 865-951-0639.

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