Colleges & Personalities

Before teenagers start pouring over the Fiske Guide to Colleges, the Princeton Review’s 368 Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report rankings or any other publication, they need to think about what makes them tick.

Teens can’t really find wonderful academic fits until they examine their own personalities, as well as their likes and dislikes.

A friend of mine who is an independent college counselor in San Diego suggests that teenagers list three positive and three negative adjectives to describe themselves and then ask their parents and best friends to do the same. Using these adjectives, the goal is to find schools that will strengthen the positives and help teenagers overcome their negative attributes.

Here’s an example:

My son is a bright child, but he tends to get down on himself when others in his class capture “A’s” very easily. When I tell Ben that some of his friends are among the rare people who are so naturally brilliant that they don’t have to work hard for their grades that doesn’t mollify him.

Should a child like my son, who is not a Type A kid, try to snag a spot at the most competitive reach school he can get into? I think not. If he is surrounded by people who are more talented, he might get deflated too easily.

Here’s another example:

I know a girl whose list of talents doesn’t include self discipline. If she can cut corners, she will do it. She’s now attending San Diego State and I asked her once what she thought of the experience. Her enthusiastic response went something like this: “It’s great. I can skip classes all the time and the professors never know.” For a teenager like this, a smaller college might have been a better fit since it’s unlikely that her teachers would have allowed her to be a no show. In fact, they might have even motivated her to attend and participate in her classes.

Here are a few more examples:

Some teenagers learn best through hand-on projects rather than rote learning and lectures. A school that puts a lot of emphasis on experiential learning and undergraduate research could be a good fit.

A teenager, who loves to write and interact with classmates, might not thrive in a school where there are few writing assignments and scarce opportunities for seminar classes.

What if a teenager feels strongly about his religious beliefs? Perhaps a school where similar values are encouraged would be a good fit. If a child is an agnostic or atheist, a liberal school that embraces iconoclasts could be a wise choice. On the other hand, would a child who is a Republican and a conservative Christian want to attend a school where the study body annually refuses to fund the struggling GOP club?

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