College Search 101

Listen to tips from Pacific admissions staff, Ryan Garcia ’12, MBA ’17, on what to look for and learn how you can best support your student through the college application process.

Choosing a college is a difficult decision for many students. There are lots of factors to consider, from cost to location to reputation.

For Pacific alumnus and experienced educator Tony Cox ’74, the personal connections he found at Pacific were what made the difference.

Cox grew up poor in rural Oregon. He wasn’t a stellar student in high school, but knew he wanted to become a teacher and decided to put himself through college.

He attended Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Ore., his first two years. There, he met a history professor and Pacific alumnus, the late Melvyn Berens ’64, ’66, who encouraged him to take a look at Pacific.

“Every person I met on the Pacific campus treated me like I was special,” said Cox, recalling his initial visit to Pacific as a prospective transfer student.  “That really touched me.”

“Colleges and universities need great students, and a lot of them offer fantastic financial aid packages. Don’t cross one off the list just because, at face value, it looks too expensive.”

After graduating from Pacific, he worked as an elementary school teacher and later an administrator and mentor to new administrators in the Forest Grove and Hillsboro school districts. In 1983, he earned a master’s in education, with a focus on curriculum and instruction, from the University of Oregon.

“I was transformed from a kid from a tough background into a teacher. I’m 40 years into my profession, and Pacific was the difference maker for me,” said Cox, who, together with his wife, funds a scholarship at Pacific to assist students from a similar background.

The Schmiedeke-Cox annual scholarship benefits transfer students from community colleges who are studying education and the first in their families to attend college. The scholarship, said Cox, is his way of “paying it forward” so future students can find the opportunities he did.

The personal connection that Cox found at Pacific is an important part of the college-selection process — but not the only factor.

Leif Gustavson, dean of Pacific’s College of Education, says it’s important for college-bound seniors to explore lots of options: big vs. small schools, rural vs. urban, public vs. private, research-focused vs. teaching-focused, and so on.

“Exposure to different kinds of colleges is really important,” particularly for students who are ambivalent about the college-search process, Gustavson said.

And don’t rule out a school simply because its “sticker price” is too high, he said. Many colleges and universities discount their tuition by offering grants, scholarships, fellowships and other forms of financial aid.

“Colleges and universities need great students, and a lot of them offer fantastic financial aid packages,” Gustavson said. “Don’t cross one off the list just because, at face value, it looks too expensive.”

“If you want your child to be successful, it begins with a light touch in the search process and putting as much of it in the hands of your child as possible.”

Visiting the schools on your list is also important, Gustavson said. But don’t just take a tour, he added. Sit in on some classes and meet with admissions officers. Such meetings give prospective students an opportunity to ask questions and demonstrate their interest.

What role should parents play in the college-search process?

Parents, said Gustavson, should encourage their children to explore all their options and help them weigh the pros and cons of each school to which they are accepted.

But for many kids, the college search is a first step on the road to adulthood. As much as possible, let your students lead the way, said Gustavson, who took this approach with his own son, now a sophomore in college.

“It can be hard for parents” to relinquish control, he said. “But if you want your child to be successful, it begins with a light touch in the search process and putting as much of it in the hands of your child as possible.”

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