Come mid-school year, high school seniors all over the country are in the midst of looking at colleges as they choose their favorite for commitment. For some, it will be where they spend the next four years of their lives obtaining a degree in a field they love. For far too many, this choice will be where they spend the next year realizing that it was the wrong choice. They may start over the following year (like many first-year STEM majors) or decide they wasted four or more years in the wrong path. It doesn’t have to be this way.

One university. One major. Four years. Those should be the goals for every family sending their kids off to college. A simple three-step model will greatly increase your likelihood of success as you’re looking at colleges.

The Head

This is the logical approach to selecting a college and major. High schoolers looking at colleges can first complete a career assessment to determine the career path(s) that fits with their skills and passions. Job shadowing and career-interest interviews are also valuable at this stage. This gives students a real-world idea of jobs they’re considering. Once this is done, search for schools with academic strengths in the area that your child is interested in. Be sure the institution has a history of graduating students in four years.

The Heart

You are going to spend a huge amount of money on each child’s college education, so shouldn’t they love it? Actually, they have to love it! Before selection, your student needs to experience and be excited about the classrooms, the campus, the dorms, the football team or whatever it is that they want in a college experience. Visit campuses and experience what life would be like before you start paying for it. You can’t substitute this with brochures or the internet.

The Hand

Understand the financials of what your shortlist of schools are prepared to offer you and what they are going to take from you. What is the percentage of students that graduate in four years? How much free need-based and merit-based will the school likely provide your family? Know how much it will cost you before selecting the school.

In the end, you should evaluate dozens of schools regardless of the sticker price. A closed mind will cost you money. By applying this process to each school, you will be able to narrow your choices down to five or six possibilities. Return your applications to all five or six schools. Then allow all offers to come in before making any decisions.

For more help on choosing a college that’s right for your student, check out the Knowledge4College Resources page.