How to Successfully Navigate the College Selection Process
I’m not meaning to add any pressure at an already stressful time, but as you enter your senior year of high school, the college application clock is ticking. In just a few months, you will need to complete the application process, so, if you haven’t already settled on your six top college choices, now is the time to figure out where you want to be this time next year. With more than 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities to choose from, you will need to take a methodical approach to whittling your selection down to a mere half dozen schools that best fit your social and academic needs.
What You Don’t Want in a School
More often than not, it is easier to determine what we don’t like than what we do. As you start searching through school brochures and surfing college websites, cross off the schools that have no appeal to you. Looking closely at the qualities you dislike will help you figure out what you do like. You may discover that you really can’t stand cold winters and you want to study in a state with a hot climate, or that you feel intimidated by large campuses and you’d prefer a smaller, more intimate college.
Don’t Judge a School by Its Brochure
Finding a college that is a perfect fit for you is serious business and should not be based on a brochure. While brochures can give you a brief overview of what a school has to offer, it is better to talk to your guidance counselor, college reps and other students to get a real feel for a school. You can contact the admissions officer and ask to be connected with current students who share your interests. If you can visit the campus, talk with students and faculty members, sit in on some classes and eat at least one meal in the dining hall. Seek out alumni to get their opinions. Try to gather as much information as possible about the schools that interest you before making any decisions.
Your Comfort Zone
In your college search, you are looking for a place to call ‘home’ for four years, so you want to make sure you’re going to feel comfortable wherever you land. Of course, going to college is a great opportunity for new experiences, but make sure you don’t step so far out of your comfort zone that you will end up feeling miserable! Make a list or mind map of your preferences. Are you urban or rural? Would you prefer a big campus or small campus? Are you more cerebral than athletic? Do you prefer East or West Coast, or somewhere in the middle? When looking at a college, ask yourself if you can imagine being there for four years. You want to expand your horizons, but you also want to be happy.
Narrowing Down the Search
Once you have an idea of where your preferences lie, start matching schools to your personal interests. You may have a chosen major already or maybe just an idea of which classes you enjoy the most. Look for schools with reputable departments in these subjects. If you are involved in extra-curricular activities you would like to pursue after graduation, make sure the schools you are looking at offer these opportunities. You also want to think about any other special interests or religious affiliations you may hold while researching colleges.
Don’t Let the Price Tag Get In Your Way
We’ve all heard horror stories about student debt, but don’t be put off applying to the school of your dreams just because it costs more. Most schools offer financial aid packages to students who cannot afford tuition. By the same token, do not assume that a school is better because it costs more. Many state schools are equally excellent but more affordable. When choosing a college, base your decisions on what is the best fit for you rather than on the price tag. If you can’t see yourself jumping up and down with joy when you receive your acceptance letter, don’t bother applying, even if the tuition is more affordable.