With over 4,000 colleges in the country and an endless supply of rankings touting the best of this and the best of that, your college search can get complicated. And it can happen in a hurry. Your friends will be talking about colleges. Your uncle will wax poetic about his alma mater. You will see all the posters and announcements hanging on the walls of your college counseling office. So many options and yet, you can only choose one to attend. How do you know which one is right?
While you may never know which ONE is right, you can identify which ONES may be awesome possibilities by doing some homework and building a great college list.
And here’s how you do it.
1. Know thyself
Before you start looking at colleges, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. I’m not talking about checking yourself out in the mirror to see if the gear is working today as much as I’m talking about understanding your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. If you don’t have a good handle of what’s important to you and why, try this exercise suggested in a great book on college admissions called, Going Geek, written by my friend, John Carpenter:
Write an assessment of yourself that covers what you are good at, what you struggle with, what is important to you, and how you learn. Then ask a close friend to write an assessment of you and have each of your parents do the same. Once you have all three, compare them and see what common threads exist.
2. Priorities first
Some of the major attributes you should pay attention to when thinking about how you will qualify schools for your college list include:
· Student life
· Chance of admission
· Types of admission
· Graduation rates
But now that you have a good handle on your VIPS, you should be able to qualify these attributes even further. Forget the US News. Forget your uncle’s drawn out stories of the good ol’ days. Forget about the school that your best friend daydreams about. In other words, realize that you now have the power to create your own rankings based on what is important to you.
3. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes
Okay, you now have a good idea of what’s important to you and why. You’ve created a list of attributes that you want to find in a college. Now, it’s time to do some investigating. Since you can’t visit all 4,000 schools individually, turn to some search engines to identify schools that match up with your most desired attributes. The College Board’s Big Future, College Navigator and Princeton Review each have very extensive databases that allow you to search for schools. Collegeresults.org is another great website with very helpful information. Produced and maintained by the Education Trust, this website allows you to look up a college’s four-, five- or six-year graduation rates and then compare the school’s rate to those of its peer institutions.
As you identify schools of interest, research them more thoroughly, schedule campus visits, meet with admissions reps at local college fairs and check with your college counseling office to find out when these schools may be visiting your high school. Another great way to get to know a school is by connecting with them through Facebook and Twitter.
4. Edit, edit and then edit some more
Initially, your college list may contain any number of schools. Ideally, you want to get it down to roughly 10 schools. As you visit and learn more about each school, try to narrow the list down to down to 5-6 finalists where you would be happy enrolling. Some people will tell you to pick a range of schools where admission for you may be a reach, very likely or a sure thing. My opinion is that you should be picking schools at which you can see yourself being happy. Don’t include a school just because you know you can get in but have no intention of ever enrolling.
5. Don’t be a Sloppy Joe
Building a great college list is one thing but if you fail to keep it organized, the list will lose its value.
Get a binder where you can keep a checklist for each school, notes from campus visits and brochures and other materials. You want to be able to compare apples to apples – keeping your information updated and fresh will help you do that.
6. College lists are made of paper, not stone
Be flexible and keep an open mind. If you get soured on a school for a reason that is important to you (the school is too far away, too expensive or just didn’t feel right when you went for a visit) and want to take if off your college list, then feel free to do so.
Same rule applies when you learn something about a school that makes you want to add this school to your list. Spend some time qualifying the new school and if it feels right and matches up with your priorities, add it to your list.
If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below. You can also email me directly at email@example.com – I would love to hear from you!