College Knowledge: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success
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College Knowledge: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success

College Knowledge: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success

My name is Jessica Garner and I’m the Director of College Readiness for Union County Public Schools, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina. More importantly, I’m a mother. My oldest daughter is just starting the process of searching for the college of her dreams. She’s only in 9th grade, but she’s an athlete, so she feels a lot of pressure to decide where she’ll be attending earlier than most students. Knowing that, we started our college search journey this past summer by visiting a few campuses closer to home.

Our First Campus Visit Experience

The first campus we visited was in the middle of Virginia, where my husband and I are both alumni. Our daughter has been to football games there and was already familiar with the campus, however she had never been on an official campus tour. Once the tour began, I sensed she felt out of place as a 9th grader on a tour with juniors and seniors who already seemed to know their desired major.

As we toured the campus, my husband and I were able to share tidbits of tradition, past experiences, and fun facts about the university that the tour guide didn’t share. Our daughter was in awe of the beautiful buildings, perfectly manicured grounds, and general feel of the campus. She was so enamored that when we left, she declared the school as her first choice. Of course my husband and I were thrilled, however, we wanted her to explore other options to provide her with further perspective.

A few weeks later we visited a smaller, private Christian school that was also located in Virginia. My daughter was attending a soccer camp there, so we decided to travel a day early and take another official tour of the campus. Since this was a private Christian school, there was certainly a different vibe to this tour, compared to our experience a few weeks earlier. The buildings were very new, and the tour guide didn’t elaborate much about the school’s tradition. We also took a bus to each location, as the campus is very spread out and a lot was under construction with new buildings going up everywhere. My husband and I were less impressed by the buildings and more interested in the support structures that exist to help students connect, deepen their faith, and grow as adults. Our daughter, however, was unimpressed. All she could mention was that the dorm seemed like a hotel (we thought that was amazing!) and that everything was too new. She didn’t see that this university is working really hard to make sure all of their students have a personal connection with each other and providing key mentorship opportunities, both academically and spiritually.

What this Experience Means for Students

When I reflect on our experiences as parents, I think about the thousands of students who are also beginning their college journey. What I want for my daughter is for her to consider more than the buildings on campus, more than the atmosphere on a Saturday when there’s a home football game. Does the college offer a major that she is interested in? How will she be supported as a person when she is away from home? How easy is it to get help when she needs it? What types of resources are available?

Sending your babies off to college is a huge step for parents, and students should consider what tools they are using to make their decision. Naviance Student offers a platform where students can research many different colleges without having to navigate across multiple college websites. Students can compare colleges based on variables that matter most to them and quickly search for best-fit colleges, based on their academic performance, interests, and budget. However, the college search shouldn’t only exist online.

An in-person campus visit provides students with a realistic picture of whether they envision themselves living, studying, and thriving on that campus or not. While on campus, high school students should talk to current college students and ask about their experiences. How easy is it to get a ride home on breaks? What is the campus like on weekends? How accessible are professors when they have questions? What types of student healthcare is available on campus?

If they are a first-generation college student, the process of choosing a college is even more daunting. According to U.S. Department of Education, first-generation college students have additional factors and considerations when choosing a postsecondary experience:

  • A brief from February 2018 states: those students whose parents did not earn a bachelor’s degree leave without returning at a rate of 33% within three years after enrolling.
  • Data from 2002 high school sophomores shows 54% of first-generation students reported the price of attending college was a major factor in their decision to leave college without returning.
  • Also from 2002, 31% of first-generation college students report that their decision to leave college was based on demands at home, in addition to price.

How do we get to Best-Fit?

Choosing the best-fit college can alleviate some of these concerns for first generation students. To find that best-fit option, there are many tools that can help students learn more about attending college. In addition to online college readiness tools like Naviance Student, school counselors and websites (Better Make Room-Reach Higher is one example) also provide additional guidance to students. A recently launched a Facebook chat bot can provide another resource for answering questions about college in a real-time format. With the right level of support from counselors, easily accessible technology resources, and campus visits, all students with aspirations of earning a degree can find their best-fit college and achieve long-term success.

To learn more about Naviance resources available to students and parents for college search, match and fit, please visit

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