Valley Catholic photo
Jacob Vincent, a Valley Catholic junior, goes over college ideas with counselor Joe Bernard.
Valley Catholic photo
Jacob Vincent, a Valley Catholic junior, goes over college ideas with counselor Joe Bernard.
Students deciding which college to attend should abide by the ancient Greek maxim: Know thyself. Counselors at Catholic schools in Oregon say prospective collegians need to cut through the fog of recruitment letters and identify the kind of place where they'll thrive and be able to serve the world.

Sharon Ivey, director of college counseling at St. Mary's Academy in Portland, often tells students: "You have two projects. One is to figure out what colleges are out there. The other is to look at who you are."

"The whole thing is to choose the school that best fits the student," says Joe Bernard, counselor at Valley Catholic in Beaverton. "All of this requires students to be very honest with themselves."

Bernard offers students a list of five questions to answer that he calls "tried and true":  
1. What type of academic experience fits? There is no need to have a major set in stone; most college students change along the way because classes help them understand their gifts and yearnings. If you are undecided, you may want to pick a school that has a wider breadth of majors. If you are focused already, choose a school that's good at the program you love.

2. What location suits you? Sophomores usually dream of being as far from home as possible. "Later, the idea of attending the University of Guam is not as appealing as it once was," says Bernard. About nine in 10 high school seniors end up attending school within 500 miles of home. Oregonians have a nice circle of schools in their state, and places not far away like Gonzaga and Santa Clara.

3. What's your size? "There are big differences between large institutions and small institutions," Bernard says. A smaller school with interactive faculty might be best for students who want guides to help them explore or those who need someone pushing. Large schools would suit students who are self directed and independent.

4. In what environment will you thrive? Campuses usually have a particular characteristic: political, religious, social, friendly. Some are in the city, while others are rural or suburban. Is it close to the ocean? Close to the mountains? Visits are the best way to pick up on these environmental factors.

5. Will the price work for me? Bernard lists this question last because he does not want students to automatically discount private schools that may come forward with scholarships and grants to equalize the cost. "The harsh realty is, no one knows how much it will cost until you apply and get all the financial aid offers," he says.   
Bernard suggests that high school juniors assemble a list of 15 to 20 colleges and progressively winnow down to five by application time — fall of senior year.

Peter Johnson, counselor at Jesuit High, says the question that organizes the college search is, "What's important to me as a student?"

In academics, that means deciding on academic rigor. Students should pick a school that will challenge them, but that won't leave them dazed.

Johnson tells Jesuit students that for four years they have been in an environment that forms their faith life. They need to ask, "Do I want a college that will support that journey?"

When it comes to social life, which should not be overlooked, the question is big school vs. small school. Do students want the big football weekends that a large school offers, or the fraternities and sororities?

As for location, most students choose to stay close to home, but some don't mind traveling far, based on family vacations or having relatives in the area.

Johnson knows families cannot break the bank, but thinks it's important to visit campuses. "See if you fit there," he says. "Personally experience the neighborhood. Have conversations with students walking by. Get a candid response from them about the school."

Johnson says some students get an intangible sense of belonging or not belong based on a walk of campus.

"We have preferences, places where we feel most connected, most emotionally fed,"Johnson says. "You need to consider non-classroom experiences."

Like Bernard, Johnson cautions students against using affordability as a first criteria.

Federal loans have put college within reach of most families. The school's websites are now required to include a web calculator; students plug in their academic and demographic information and get back decent cost estimates.  

Court Wirth, college counselor at Marist in Eugene, asks students to consider finances early in discernment. On occasion, he sees seniors get accepted at places they can't afford. He does not discourage shooting high, but wants to make sure each student applies to at least one school that will be affordable even without scholarships.  

Wirth also asks applicants to consider classes sizes carefully. He also notes that students used to a nurturing spiritual atmosphere in high school would do well to consider that.
Tyrone Stammers, college counselor at La Salle Prep, asks students to consider location, size, cost, academic offerings and what he calls "fit and feel."

"Looking at colleges is like trying on shoes," Stammers says. "Some fit better than others."

He urges students to ask themselves: Do you see yourself living there for four years? Students who want to explore life may want to go to school in a big city, like Santa Clara or University of San Francisco. Others may like the quiet peace of a Linfield or George Fox. Those who tend to get lost in a crowd should consider a small school, while "social butterflies" may feel at home at University of Oregon or Oregon State.

"There's a school out there for every kid," Stammers says. "It's just a matter of finding it.
At Regis High School in Stayton, an ambitious program helps students gain in self-knowledge both for choosing a college and selecting a career.  

ASPIRE (Access to Student assistance Programs In Reach of Everyone) uses mentors to help students develop goals, explore career opportunities, find a school or program that fits and find ways to pay tuition.

Mentors include a retired police officer, juvenile counselor, engineer, dental hygienist and development director. An insurance agent also is in the mix.

During the first part of the school year, ASPIRE mentors focus primarily on seniors, helping with career and college decisions, applying for schools and scholarships and planning for smooth transitions into life after Regis. But soon, every student is involved. Freshman get introduced. Sophomores write a career essay that is shared with their mentors. Juniors start getting serious about college and careers.  

Anna Boedigheimer — Regis computer teacher, librarian and drama coordinator —teaches the Career Information System in the school's computer class. The system helps students begin looking at careers and colleges, and creating resumes so mentors gain insight into students’ career interests. Seventh and eighth graders from area Catholic schools are introduced to the program, which includes a portfolio that follows them through high school.

The portfolios contain accomplishments and other useful information such as resumes and community service. The hope is to have a professional product to enhance college and scholarship prospects by senior year.  

Regis staff speak on college and career topics at monthly ASPIRE mentor meetings. There is also an annual scholarship workshop. Staff set up job shadow days for students, who have followed professionals like physical therapists, pharmacists, physicians, civil engineers, business owners, accountants, journalists and nurses.

Joni Gilles, in her fourth year as principal at Regis, continues to praise the ASPIRE mentors “for the positive support they provide for all the Regis students in dealing with decisions about the future and the integral part they play in the success of the school.”