Kendra: A key part of your college research is deciding exactly what you’re looking for. Type-A gal that I am, I came up with an acronym while searching for my ideal college: C.A.L.F. (Character, Academics, Location, and Finances):
Character. This describes the kind of students who would like my ideal college. They could be “hardworking hippies” as my sister, Samantha, describes her peers at Grinnell College, or nerdy-chic like those at my future school, Hendrix College. Overnight visits gave me a sense of the student body’s character. Devouring cheesy bread and "The Scarlet Letter" with my host convinced me that Hendrix was the school for me.
Academics. This will be as big a factor in your decision as you want to make it. In my search, I spent hours on the College Board website, comparing my GPA and test scores to students at my prospective schools. I also looked for schools with small classes, group discussion and close professor-student relationships to give me individualized help in the classroom.
Location. Although many of my friends will remain here in Lawrence, my parents will have moved to Little Rock, Ark. Located 30 minutes away in Conway, Hendrix was a perfect match to stay near my family. Some students may opt to move far away from family to feel a sense of greater independence. I didn’t care much whether my college was in a small town or big city, but that may be a big factor in your decision.
Finances. This could mean picking colleges that are close enough to live at home, staying in state, or taking a couple years at junior college, but it can also mean applying for numerous scholarships or taking out loans. Keep in mind the expert advice that you should graduate with no higher debt than what you realistically can earn during your first year out of school.
You’ll be surprised at how many schools look appealing. Just use C.A.L.F. and you can find your “udderly” perfect school!
Wes: I tried but could not come up with a suitable bovine acronym to guide what high school seniors and families should consider when deciding where to live during freshman year. But here’s my list anyhow:
Maturity. Deciding where a freshman should live, and thus how far away he or she should go to attend college, takes an objective assessment of maturity. I’ve launched high school seniors into the dorms a semester early and had it turn out great. I’ve seen JUCO transfers who lived at home until age 21 bomb in a single semester of independent living. Maturity isn’t measured by how well teens clean, load dishwashers, or do laundry. It’s measured by the wisdom of their choices. Did they hold jobs or show leadership in extra curriculars? Did they manage substance use well? Did they treat most of their time as free time or were they self-motivated and studious without a lot of prodding? Did you give them a lot for free? These answers predict whether a teen is ready to leave home and live in the dorms the first year. I only recommend apartments for the most mature teens.
Conflict. Paradoxically, the more conflict you have with teens living at home, the more likely it is that they should keep living there past high school graduation, and the less likely it is that either your or your teen will be able to stand it. Sometimes it’s better to push forward on independent living for college, just to reduce conflict.
Introversion. Teens who are very introverted may prefer living at home. Moderately introverted teens may do fine in the dorms, but often find Greek life overwhelming. Extroverts will usually do well in either the dorms or Greek houses, but are at greater risk of getting caught up in too much party life for their own academic good.
Every freshman year is an experiment. If things don’t turn out well with the living situation you’ve selected, try something different until you get a formula that manages each of these criteria.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.