This year or next year, you’ll be applying to college. There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. How can you find out which ones might be the right ones for you?
There are definitely some wrong ways to go about gathering information about prospective colleges:
Only applying to colleges that you’ve heard of. WRONG. There are hundreds of amazing schools you’ve never heard of that could be perfect for you. There are huge schools in the south, on the west coast, near the ocean, in the mountains, in some major cities. There are small schools a short drive away. There are more than just 2 or 3 state schools – and there are more than just 2 or 3 states.
Asking your friends or your friends’ parents which schools they’re applying to. WRONG. What might suit a friend of yours might be a disaster for you, even if you two loved all the same things in high school. The college years are times of exploration, growth, and change. Start that journey now!
Applying to schools that email you with offers of waived application fees. WRONG. College is going to cost you or your parents thousands, probably tens of thousands or more, and you’re going to live there for four years. Saving $75 shouldn’t even be on your list of criteria.
Relying solely on information from Naviance. WRONG. Naviance saves guidance counselors a lot of time and effort and assures them that your transcripts get to your college choices safely, but their scattergrams and other charts gather information from too narrow a pool of applicants to be your primary source of information. That kid with your GPA and SAT who got into your first choice school — Does he play an instrument? Does he play a sport? Did his parents go to college? Is he from an underrepresented minority group? There’s no way to tell from Naviance.
Basing your choice on information on college complaint sites. WRONG. Websites like “College Confidential” encourage students to express their frustrations with their schools, so by far most of the posts will be negative. If 98% of kids love a school and 2% hate the school and post on College Confidential, does that mean you’ll be unhappy there? Probably not. There are better barometers of how students regard a school. (Read on!)
So how should you go about building a list of schools to consider?
Ask your guidance counselor. SMART. Your guidance counselor knows you (more than you think, sometimes), knows what schools you might qualify for based on your grades and scores, knows what schools might be a good fit for your extra-curricular interests, and knows where other students with similar qualities have been admitted. Ask your guidance counselor for a list of colleges that might work for you. That list is a great place to start.
Complete the survey on collegeboard.org. SMART. With an enormous base of students and excellent data collection, the College Board has very accurate information. Their college search tool will help you generate a list of schools that you can consider. If a school shows up on their list and your guidance counselor’s list, you definitely want to check it out carefully. (Be sure to look at all schools on the list they generate. In the past, they’ve put the colleges that pay to be on the top first, like Google does.) IMPORTANT: The College Board website can tell you what percentage of freshman go back for sophomore year, a critical statistic to determine what students really think of a school.
Pay for the listings on US News & World Report. SMART. Their “Compass” program not only tells you whether a school has junior year abroad, but how many kids actually go. It not only tells you whether they have a certain sport at that school, but what percentage of kids are in sports there. It provides a level of information not available anywhere else. It does cost $30 for the year, but I’ve always found that money well spent.
Go to college fairs. SMART. In northern Westchester, there’s one in October and one in the spring each year. The spring one is just right for high school juniors (and their parents) and the October one is great for seniors who haven’t yet made a list of colleges. The first thing you’ll notice at a college fair is the huge number of schools present, most of which you’ve never heard of. Go in with a plan. Ask each school whether they have a certain major, or ask how many students are in your major, or ask how many kids go on to grad school, or ask if they require freshman writing class. And don’t forget to collect free pens, bookmarks, key chains, candy, and other giveaways at every table as you fill out “send me more information” cards.
Attend college visits at your high school. VERY SMART. Your guidance department keeps a list of which colleges will be visiting your high school and when. Sometimes, you can even find the list on your school’s website. At a college fair, the college representative might be an admissions person, or she might be an alumna, or she might be a parent of a local student. When the college comes to your high school during the day, it’s nearly always a college admissions person, often the man or woman who will be reading your application and deciding whether or not to accept you. You can’t miss that opportunity! You want to show the colleges interest by going to the campus, but that’s not always possible. If they’ve taken the trouble to come to you and you don’t even take half an hour out of your day to meet them, that’s not showing yourself to your best advantage. Yes, you’ll have to miss a class, but you’ll get a pass from guidance. Even if you’re not sure you have any interest in that school, go. Very often other students who have shown up have questions you never even thought to ask. I’ve heard students ask, “Do you house freshman together?” Would you have thought to ask that? Or “If your SAT II Subject tests aren’t great, should you send them anyway?” Take advantage of the small group and ask whatever you can think of — but please don’t ask information that you can easily find on their website. Go to these meetings prepared with at least the basics.
The goal is to come up with a nice long list of colleges so you can have plenty of schools to choose from when it comes time to visit schools and then apply. It’s not crazy to have 20 – 40 schools on your initial list!
I hope this information has been helpful, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me! Contact info is on my website: http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com .