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The Reach College: Helping Your Teenager Choose the Best Fit College

My Son’s College Fit: Making The Choice

When our oldest son started college, we chose not to receive his report cards at home. He had gotten accepted into a terrific school and it was his responsibility to do well and work to the best of his ability. Now, as a second semester junior, it is clear that our decision to put the ownership of his grades on him was a good one. He is a hard working, decent student–but attending his reach college has had its ups and downs.

In my professional life, I encourage teenagers to apply to schools where they will be happy and feel successful. I am not so sure I practice what I preach as a tutor to my own teens, however. Our son was an excellent student in high school and while originally deferred from his “reach college,” he was ultimately accepted. His ACT score was lower than the average candidate, but his GPA was definitely commensurate with other applicants. The condition of his acceptance was a bridge program: spend the summer right after graduation at school living in a dorm with other incoming freshman. They gave him 10 days to decide. It was not an easy time in our house.

The Reach College

He had been accepted to some fine schools. A self-proclaimed “science geek,” he wanted to study where there would be research opportunities for undergraduates, and he wanted to be close enough to drive home. But when this surprise offer came knocking (to the reach school he thought he would never have the chance to attend), he was stumped. He would be at a school that would bring challenges around every corner. After years of contemplating where he would attend college, it boiled down to a week of intense conversation.

We did not advise. Instead, we had him call friends and family who had attended the same school, and we suggested he see a therapist to work through some of his concerns. We helped him make lists of pros and cons, and in the end, he decided to take the leap. And he has never looked back.

But it has been hard. His first C on an exam brought a panicked phone call. He realized he was going to have to change the way he approached his studies. I can’t say that he succeeded right away but by sophomore year, he had figured it out. Still, he struggled with the intense competition and the academic challenges.

So would we recommend going to the reach college? He has no regrets and neither do we. He has loved every hard minute, every late night and every hockey and football game. Are his grades as high as they would have been elsewhere? Probably not. But we know he is where he belongs … for all of those critically hard lessons that life teaches our teens, but school cannot.

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