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Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

What to Look for in a College: The Heart/Gut Test

by | Oct 23, 2020 | Build relationships | 0 comments

The former president of my alma mater and the college I worked for always told a story about his daughter’s overnight visit at his alma mater, the Air Force Academy. He dropped her off, glowing because he knew she knew what to look for in a college.

The daughter he picked up the next day, he always said in his speeches, “Was not the same daughter I’d dropped off.”

She was quiet on the car ride home. Toward the end, she burst out, “Dad, I don’t want to go to the Air Force Academy.”

“So don’t go there,” he responded. “Go to Rice.”

So she did. Now she’s a doctor.

Heart Test. Gut Test.

Our former president always said his daughter aced the Heart/Gut Test. If she’d chosen to go to the Air Force Academy just to make her dad happy, she knew that it’d be a long, miserable four years. 

Our former president truly believed that when you know deep down that it feels right, it is. 

But. What about when you hear someone say this, or read quotes like this? 

“You should never ignore your gut. But you should know when to rely on that gut instinct and when to safeguard against it.”

It’s harder to grasp a completely intuitive approach to the college decision. As humans, we want to make sure the decision is logical: 

  • A pros and cons list. 
  • Evidence of oodles of successful alumni. 
  • Statistics and proof. 

But the college decision doesn’t always come down to a pros and cons list. 

Why’s finding the best fit so important? Let’s dive into a couple of scenarios to illustrate why.

SCENARIO A

  1. Your kid does a diligent job of choosing a college. He carefully examines what he wants, visits colleges and scrutinizes every angle of the decision. Your son employs the heart test and gut test to his advantage.
  2. He definitely chooses the best fit for him. Your son thrives! He gets involved in activities, picks a major that is quite possibly the best match that ever existed. He adds a few mentors to his list and finds best friends for life.
  3. Your child happily graduates from said college and gets a great job and/or goes off to his No. 1 choice dental school (or whatever graduate school). Beautiful happy ending. You sob happily at alllll the graduations.

SCENARIO B

  1. Your kid doesn’t really engage in the college search — you can’t get him to move off the couch. 
  2. He chooses a college. Not the best match in history, because it’s pretty expensive and that creates some angst. You’re paying a whopping amount because, due to his inability to get off the couch, he didn’t apply for scholarships. 
  3. He doesn’t really apply himself. But TBH, it actually ends up going okay. His grades? He manages to squeak through! Graduation? Ditto! He says, “I’m just not a school person, Mom.” He manages to gather tons of friends along the way.
  4. He gets a great job after graduation and eventually becomes the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You know, he’s one of those really successful people whose teachers said he would end up as a ditch digger. Like Walt Disney.
  1. Truth be told, you’re just as surprised as all his poor professors. You should have known, looking back. As a kid, he showed up at Boy Scout Camp and ended up leading all the activities — not the Boy Scout leaders.

SCENARIO C

  1. Your daughter (just to shake it up a little) adamantly decides to go to a college based on where her boyfriend’s gonna go. (I can’t tell you how much I despised reason as an admission counselor.)
  2. She breaks up with said boyfriend and melts down in a puddle of existential crisis halfway through first semester. She’s six hours away, in a school that’s way too big (or way too small) or whatever. Needless to say, it’s not a Baby Bear fit. You encourage her to stick it out for at least another semester.
  3. Your daughter transfers out after the first semester, anyway, vowing never to see Bad Brad the Boyfriend ever again. She loses credits due to her terrible grades and in all actuality, must start over. She’s back at square one.
  4. She is actually unhappy at her second institution, too. She transfers again. Classes don’t transfer. By this point, she might as well still claim freshman status in college, even though she should have been at least a second-semester sophomore. Ugh. She graduates late, with more debt than she should have.

There are plenty more permutations than what I’ve covered above. And guess what? I knew a student that fit every one of these descriptions. 

The process boils down to: 

GUT TEST->HEART TEST->CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL->GREATER CHANCE OF GRADUATING ON TIME.

Now, did I say “greater chance of success in life” or “instant fame and fortune”? 

No. Just “greater chance of graduating on time.”

Even so, that’s a big accomplishment. 

Just remember, everything you can do to prepare for the heart test, gut test and ultimately, the college experience, will help your child attain the direct route to the best experience possible. 

How to make sure that happens? Well, when everything strikes the right notes with your child, the diploma almost writes itself! 

These things will help you accomplish all of this. 

Checklist for the college search!
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1. Visit the Campus.

Get geared up for your 16th masked campus visit: (“Yep, this is what we do now: Not breathe…”) or amp yourself up for your first non-breathing expedition.

Your kiddo can’t successfully ace the heart or gut test without stepping foot on campus.

2. Meet the People.

I know, this sounds so obvious. Duh — you want you kiddo to meet the people on campus. You meet the tour guide, right. Check. 

But no, I mean really get to know the people. Ask them their whole life story. Ask them what they thought about their chosen profession as kindergarteners. 

Don’t ask cursory questions like, “Do you eat every meal in the dining hall?” 

Not only is that boring, it doesn’t get to the root, the heart, the real guts of the kid. Hey, the heart! The guts

Katie effervesced. She was a tour guide on our campus and was so bubbly that I think she floated on bubbles. She was everyone’s friend and pretty much told her life story from the ground up to everyone — on every tour. 

But the thing was, she wasn’t annoying. She was wonderful. Parents loved her. Every student wanted to be her friend. I think it’s because she was so real. 

Encourage your student to talk to everyone in the real-est sense. 

Not every tour guide can be a Katie, but seek out the Katies wherever you are on campus and whether that person’s your tour guide or not. It’s a win for all.

And don’t neglect the Katies who are librarians, admission counselors, professors, the list goes on! Talk to everyone. 

My alma mater’s best ambassador works in the alumni and advancement office. She’s also the wife of one of our most popular biology professors. She’s effervesces, too. 

Meet the people who effervesce. 

3. Keep Semi-Quiet.

Shssshshh. Mom and dad. You’ve got to shhhhh. 

Your child is trying to figure out his way. 

Oh, gosh, I know I encouraged you to ask a billion questions on the college visit. But you must be quiet and kinda let your child come to you. 

I’ve learned from experience that when parents try to push their opinions on their kids, it sometimes backfires. “I loved our visit at College ABC, didn’t you?” One parent says. 

“I loathed College ABC. I hate its colors [or other ridiculous reason].” Says the kid. 

Sometimes they might pick the school you love (yes, with the Katies!) if you don’t project too much. 

Of course, this all depends on your kids’ personality. 

On the other hand, if you’ve got a pretty compliant kid, you might get away with a little more effusiveness. Kids are hard, I know! Gah!

Checklist for the college search!
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https://collegemoneytips.com/startofschoolchecklist

4. Talk About the Ol’ Rumbly Gut Feeling.

It’s okay to have an instinct that doesn’t make much sense. Encourage your kid to feel that. Talk about the Heart Test/Gut Test and make it a true part of the experience. 

It’s kinda like picking your spouse or partner. Did you make pros and cons list as to whether you should marry him or her? 

Nah, you went with your gut. Or at least, I hope you did.

Who says the college decision shouldn’t at least be somewhat about that, too?

Listen to the Heart/Gut

Now, I hear ya. You’re asking, “What if my kid doesn’t feel the effervescence? The falling in love? The ‘Yep, this is where I’m supposed to go?’”

As hard as it is to hear, your search might not be over. Or maybe you need to start a new search now that you know what to look for in a college.

Keep looking till your kiddo finds it.

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