At The Parish Group, we speak often about how to attract high school students, what they’re looking for, and what their journeys are in the college search process. Because of this, I’ve been reflecting on my own college search frequently since starting my job here in October. I applied to college six years ago, in the Fall of 2014. It feels my college search was forever ago, but it wasn’t that long ago considering The Parish Group has been working in the industry for more than thirty years. 

Searching for the college I would attend didn’t just start when I was a year or two out from applying, though. In fact, college was always on my radar growing up. I was the daughter of a high school guidance counselor, so conversations about test scores, letters of recommendation, and The Princeton Review surrounded my life. Simply put, it was not an option to escape the college conversation. I knew my entire life that I’d have to decide whether I’d continue my family’s legacy at Keene State College, attend a different state school, or go to a private school in a bigger city. My college search was high-stakes. 

Like any teenager, I didn’t want to do what was expected of me. But with each family member having strongly conflicting beliefs about where I should go, what was expected of me was relative. With all that in mind, the decision was made. I moved into Plymouth State University on Labor Day Weekend 2015, but I ended up transferring “home” to Keene State College after the first semester.

I wish I had started out with the intention of going to Keene State College all along. There was so much pressure going into my college search that took all the joy out of the process.  It would’ve saved me from the heartache and stress of turning down what I thought were more ideal schools and feeling like I’d let myself down by returning home. I now know that the values and priorities I’d established during my college search progress were reflected at Keene State College. My chosen school, like all colleges, knew how to appeal to my personal journey. Looking back from the other side of the college search experience, I know that The Parish Group has many powerful tools in helping schools appeal to their potential students’ journeys.

Our industry is dedicated to ensuring a perfect match between colleges and high school seniors. Often, that perfect match turns out to be different than the student initially expected. That was certainly the case in my college search story six years ago. Even though I believed that my college search would lead me to a completely new place, I ended up going to Keene State College, a small public liberal arts college a few blocks down the street from my childhood home where I was a third-generation student. In the end, I made the best choice for me given my options, opinions, and location.

My college search was immensely consequential on the outcome of my life, even if my specific college choice was not what I expected. My journey of deep self-discovery, sacrificing what I thought I wanted, and making hard choices that made me feel decidedly uncool in the moment changed my life for the better. I am a much stronger and more introspective person from all I learned on my college search. I also learned so much more about what makes Keene State unique as an institution. 

If I could give advice to a seventeen-year-old trying to pick a college, I would tell them to give themselves some credit. Dealing with the family pressures, planning out the financial involvement, and coordinating the logistical stress of applications, and more takes courage that will stay with them even after graduation. 

Working in the higher ed industry now, I see how passionate colleges are about drawing in students who will be a perfect fit for their unique campus community. There might be surface-level characteristics of schools that put them immediately on the yes or no list, but your college search could reveal much more. Each school is unique, just like each high school senior is unique. To capitalize on this opportunity to connect, schools should brand themselves as much as possible. Social media, video, graphic design, targeted mailing, and web design can all help in portraying their best features to potential students. Digging a little deeper into those unique traits will help each school and each student find their ideal match.