What Matters Most to Students When Choosing Colleges

Next to the architecture and food on college campuses, the quality of the dormitories are what prospective students consider when making their decisions about which colleges to apply to. Sigh. I send students on college tours during their junior and senior years of high school so they can check out college life while we narrow down their lists of colleges.  When they return from these tours, they all talk about the beautiful campuses, friendly tour guides, design of dorms and bathrooms, delicious food, and amenities.

Seriously? When parents spend $100K to almost $300K for an undergraduate education, I would think they would be meeting with the academic deans to discuss general education courses, major requirements, electives, and policies.  After all, isn’t that what they hope their children will be focusing on while away for 4 years? But, surprisingly, parents assume that all programs are about the same and rarely ask about majors offered, professors, or anything related to the academic experience. 

I do agree that the on-campus college experience is important.  It gives students the opportunity to explore relationships with a wide variety of people who come from different states and countries, different socio-economic backgrounds, and different religious and cultural histories. Having upscale dining halls that serve steak (Harvey Mudd is famous for this) and lobster (yes, Washington University is known for this), certainly adds bonus points and gorgeous architecture (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) adds prestige for parents as well as students.

I’d prefer that colleges focus on building new departments and labs, recruiting excellent professors, and updating libraries and resources rather than superficial impressions like architecture, dining halls, and dorms. Besides, don’t we want our kids to spend more time learning than partying and sleeping in?