In part one of this post, I identified the difference between what students believe they want in a college education versus what they truly need and ways that students might focus on their wants to the detriment of a quality educational experience.

In part two, I’d like to discuss examples of what students need to get an excellent college education.

What Do Students Need from a College?

In many ways, the list of what students need from a college is probably fairly short. Below are a few ideas, but this might not be a comprehensive list of all the needs. 

The reason it’s so difficult to filter out “want” from “need” is that most of what a student needs from a college is subjective and perhaps a little abstract. It’s hard to easily measure most of what colleges do in terms of education. 

And yet, perhaps the most important need is not subjective but quite objective.

An Affordable College Education

Hands down, the most critical factor that overrides any other consideration is to enroll at a college that is affordable for the student and family. 

College costs have indeed soared, and there does not seem to be a lot of relief in sight. But with good planning, many students can find more than enough colleges to fit their financial needs. There is a severe need for students to not rely on taking on a crushing debt just for a college degree. Statistics about student loan debt in the United States are often discussed in the news and almost always paint a dire picture. 

I know of no college degree worth a loan burden that will significantly impact their quality of life and career choices later in life.

More Subjective Needs

After college affordability, determining what you need to get a good education is subjective. 

The Right Learning Environment

Some Learners thrive in large classroom environments that expect students to independently manage their time and tackle their assignments with little hands-on support. But more often, I believe most learners (regardless of high school GPA, test scores, or other factors that suggest academic intelligence) benefit from one-on-one attention and instruction tailored to their unique questions, strengths, weaknesses, etc. 

Frequently, I work with students who mistake what type of college student they are. Some believe because they’ve attended a huge high school, survived large classes, and worked successfully with teachers with large caseloads, they will only thrive in a college just like their high school. While these types of students might get to the end of the college journey with a degree in hand, as a lifelong educator—having worked with students from preschool to graduate school and studied education in graduate school—I’m biased about what I believe to be the necessary conditions for a high-quality college education.

Most students need to go to a college where instruction is conducted on a “human” scale. A size of college where teachers and learners have time to discuss ideas or peers can argue amongst themselves and consider points of view that are foreign to them. Above all, a college where students can form relationships with mentors who can help them with essential questions about their careers and next steps after college. 

Convincing students that a smaller learning environment is probably the better fit and investment for them is one of the most significant challenges I have as a college counselor. 

An Opportunity to Grow

Finally, students need to find opportunities to fail. The most profound growth comes from failure. 

Whether this can happen at a smaller or larger college is up to the student. But again, it is my experience that humans are more likely to risk failing in smaller environments where they are known and supported. 

Sadly, many students are lured to colleges (because of prestige or minor conveniences) that do not support their best college learning environment. If you would like help articulating your needs versus wants, please contact me. I would be delighted to use my expertise as an Independent Educational Consultant to help you with your college selection.