Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Teach 10th Graders About College

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

With college applications submitted and scheduling for next year in full force, 10th grade students and their parents are starting to ask about college.  The first flowers may not blossom for another month, but the minute junior year schedules are started, sophomores turn on eye towards college, and one eye to you for advice on college.

Whether or not you’ve had your 10th grade college night, now is the time to introduce Colleges That Change Lives to your aspiring college seekers.  CTCL has been mentioned in this column before, but just to recap:  The first edition of the book was written by Loren Pope, who had toured the country to discover colleges that excelled in working with students, stretching their minds, and providing them with learning experiences that provided the growth everyone expects to see in college.  Mr. Pope has passed on, but CTCL is now in its third edition, and better than ever; it also boasts a very robust Web site ( and a college tour program that’s held in August.

Many counselors have found the CTCL resources to be *the* best way to introduce 10th grade families to college.  It’s a little early for these students to develop college lists, so the real goal of 10th grade college counseling is to help students understand how to compare colleges.  This creates the perfect time to have the essential talk on what a college is; what makes one college different from another college, and why some colleges that are perfect for your best friend may not be all that great for you.

Enter CTCL.  The first couple of chapters invite readers to look beyond the stress and hype of choosing a college; this helps counselors show families how to begin a student-centered college search that is free of rankings and comparisons to other students.  The remaining chapters talk about the approaches each CTCL college takes in working with students, and why those approaches help student growth. In reading just a few of these descriptions, students and families will develop an appreciation for the qualities that are in an effective college—qualities that are highlighted in the CTCL colleges, but qualities that are in strong supply in all kinds of colleges, to be sure.

I’ve talked about CTCL  with my 10th grade families, then told them to go visit two local college campuses—any two—to look for the CTCL qualities that exist on those campuses, and to look for the similarities and differences between the schools.  This helps get families past the labels (big v small, rural v urban) to see the opportunities and the atmosphere of each campus.  In some years, I was able to buy a copy of the CTCL book for each 10th grade family; when that’s not in the budget, it’s just as easy and effective to refer them to the Web site.

These ideas can be powerfully emphasized when these families participate in the CTCL college fairs in the fall.  Each event starts with CTCL director Marty O’Connell talking about how to look for a college; the rest of the evening gives students and families a chance to talk to representatives from each CTCL college, where more comparing and evaluation can occur.

CTCL schools are small private schools, but by seeing the opportunities these schools offer students, your 10th grade families will look at every college through a thoughtful, personalized lens, and see opportunities at every college to individualize a student’s living and learning experience.  CTCL is a great teaching tool, and now is a teachable moment—make the most of both.

1 comment:

  1. Not all of the CTCL schools are small, private colleges. For example, Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA is a public, liberal arts college. For in-state students, it is an excellent educational value.