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Find the Right College Fit for Your Child

University of Michigan executive director Ted Spencer, who's also served as dean of admissions, offers five insights to students looking for the right path in higher education

In his role as dean of admissions for the University of Michigan, which handles around 30,000 student applications each year, Ted Spencer, now U-M's executive director, has developed several tips to parents about how to help their children find the right college.

1. The academic reputation

Carefully wade through the college's website and research material to figure out what kind of standing the institution has when compared to other colleges. For instance, do they offer a major in the field of study your son or daughter is considering? Are the college's professors leaders in their fields?

If your child is planning on continuing, does the college's undergraduate program have a reputation for students doing well and succeeding in graduate programs? For instance, "One of the real strengths of the University of Michigan is that because we are a big school, we can offer so many choices when it comes to undergraduate degrees. We have 295 different majors to choose from," says Spencer.

2. The admission process

Have your child consider: Can I get into my first college choice? She should carefully review each college's requirements and talk to her high school guidance counselor about which schools she wants to target. Counselors have firsthand experience on what kind of qualities – from test scores to afterschool activities – certain colleges are looking for in applicants.

Students should expect that while some colleges' requirements overlap, each one is slightly different. "Students need to get a sense of where they stack up," advises Spencer. "Does the college accept 80% or 7% of those who apply? The majority of the colleges admit 70 to 80% of prospective students. There's only 14% of colleges – selective schools – that admit 50% or fewer; the University of Michigan is one of them."

3. The finances

Can your child afford his or her first choice university? Look over your financial situation and the scholarships and grants that might be able to fund your child's education expenses. Keep in mind that the college financial aid offices can help you wade through your options.

4. The social scene

In other words: What's there to do outside of class? Your son might be more comfortable in a small, rural town; your daughter might crave a larger, more urban environment. Does the school have a strong intramural program and a mix of different activities available for students? Spencer says that the best way to get a feel for the vibe of a campus is to visit.

5. The mileage

How well will the degree work for your son or daughter after graduation? Certain colleges tend to have a knack for placing students in more prestigious post-graduate programs in business, medicine and law.

"You need to consider what kind of job or chance for graduate school your son or daughter will be able to have after graduation based on the school's reputation." Spencer points out that despite the recent economic decline, students from the University of Michigan have still been able to secure jobs after graduation at the same rate as before the recession.

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