We’ve heard this question many times in a variety of forms. We may have suggested a new college for a student’s list, and a parent will ask, “Is that a good school?” Or, when we first meet a family, parents may ask us, “Can my son--who’s an average student--even get into a good school?” Why can’t we say yes or no to such simple questions? It’s not that we don’t have answers. It’s that these are the wrong questions.
If you ask us, “Is that a good school for my child?” we’ll give you all the answers you want and more. And still, at the end of the day, even after we’ve provided a host of reasons why a college is right for their child, parents still feel compelled to say, “Yes, I get it, but is it a good school?”
If we ask parents—and sometimes kids—to define a “good” school, we most often hear these characteristics:
Hard to get into
A college that falls into the categories above could well be a good one, but not for everybody. We firmly believe that a good school is one where your child can thrive academically, emotionally and socially. So guess what? Harvard is not a good school…for many, many people. Even if a kid gets in, there’s the more important issue of getting out. For many people, a highly competitive, over-achieving population can be so intimidating or stressful, that they feel it best to step aside. If you had a 3.0 student who somehow managed to get in, would it make sense to send her? How much would she learn, how likely would she be to try new things, and how would she feel about herself in an environment in which she couldn’t keep up? In a group of fellow-students who are working hard and experiencing frequent success, that same kid may feel inspired to take the kind of risks that catapult her to new levels of understanding and achievement. This isn't theoretical; we've seen bright, high-achieving students come back home feeling overwhelmed or depressed after a semester at a "good" school.
A good school is one in which a student is engaged in learning and comfortable in expanding his horizons. When looking for a “good” school, look at factors like these:
GPAs and test scores of admitted students
Number of faculty, their backgrounds, their activity in their fields
Whether classes are taught by professors or TAs
Amount of contact students have with professors
How students receive help selecting classes
Variety of classes offered in your major
Opportunities for collaborative learning and academic enrichment
Availability of research and internship opportunities for undergrads
Graduation rates, grad school enrollment, job placement
Support for/opportunities to affiliate with “people like you”
How current students feel about the school
We urge you to give the concept of “fit” a chance. Before rejecting a school out of hand, take some time to learn about its strengths and how the students who are there feel about the environment. Once you’ve done that, feel free to decide for yourself if it’s a good school.