If you’re a high school junior or senior and you have taken either the PSAT, SAT or ACT, chances are you’ve already seen the first trickle of the flood of letters, postcards, catalogs, phone calls, invitations and other solicitations you’ll be bombarded with from colleges, universities and trade schools over the next months. They’re going to send you sweet, inviting letters, glamorous videos and glossy booklets that get you all excited about attending this school or that. The problem is they all look so good that making a decision about which college to go to can be overwhelming.
Help! I’m SO Confused
Having been heavily recruited during my pre-college days, I can relate to the confusion and panic that you experience as you sift through the barrage of materials that steadily arrive in the mail. The pressure can be nerve wracking, but sooner or later you have to face the inevitable and start narrowing down the options and deciding which schools you’ll be applying to before the application deadlines start sneaking up on you. But before you begin requesting transcripts and soliciting letters of recommendation you need to decide what you want in a college.
Things to Consider
Does the school have the academic program you are interested in pursuing? This is usually not a problem in most cases since, with a few exceptions, most colleges in the United States have very similar academic offerings. Also, most students have no idea what they want to study when they enter college, and even some students who believe they are certain they know what they want to major in when they enter college end up graduating with a degree in a totally different area than the one they’ve been planning on pursuing since kindergarten. Still, if you are interested in a specialized program like screenwriting or ethnomusicology you’d better do your homework and make sure that the schools you’re applying to offer those programs.
What are your post-college goals? You should choose a school where you can make contacts that will help you find a job when you graduate. Or, if you’re leaning toward graduate or professional school, you should make sure that your school and your field of study are accredited by an accrediting organization that is acceptable to graduate and professional schools you are considering.
How difficult is it to get accepted? How selective a school is should definitely be a consideration. Although you shouldn’t freak out if you don’t have straight A’s and 1600 SATs, you should take a good long look at your credentials and be realistic before you decide that you’re only applying to three schools: Harvard, Yale and Princeton. In any event, apply to several schools–I recommend ten–that you would really like to attend: choose three or four “sure admits,” three “pretty good bets,” and three “dream schools.” Then, go for it!
Where is it located? You may want to go to a college that’s close to home or clear across the country. Either way there are both advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if you choose to go to college far away from home you may grow tremendously from having to be independent and gain new friends in the process. On the other hand, you may not be able to afford to come home on short breaks when your friends choose to head home instead of to the beach or the slopes. Also, you want to find out what the climate and living conditions are like if you choose an area that is very different from your home environment. I knew that Ithaca (New York, where I earned a master’s degree from Cornell University) had cold winters; what I didn’t know was that annual snowfall in Ithaca is measured in feet, not inches.
How much does it cost? With the current average annual cost of college attendance, according to StudentLoanNetwork.com, ranging from $18,452 at a state university to $44,592 at an Ivy League school, money is certainly not the least consideration. However, don’t rule out applying to schools you really want to go to solely because of cost considerations. There are billions of dollars in scholarships, grants, loans and work study awards available from federal and state governments, corporations, civic organizations, professional and trade organizations, private philanthropies and schools themselves. Check with your guidance counselor for information about these.
What is the campus culture like? Do most of the students live on- or off-campus? Are there lots of things to do around campus or do students mostly seek their entertainment elsewhere? To determine if the campus culture is to your liking, you should definitely visit as many of the campuses you are considering as you can. When you visit, try to take in a few classes that you think you’d be interested in enrolling in and arrange to stay overnight with a current student–many admissions departments will match you up with a host. If you can’t visit a campus for some reason, ask the admissions department to send you a video and arrange to have a couple of students call you.
What do your parents think? Although you’re the one who has to go to college, face it, your parents will have an opinion and, yes, you will hear about it. Your parents are probably just as excited as you are about you going to college, but sometimes their idea of the perfect college for you is vastly different from your idea of the perfect college for you. You could choose to ignore them if they don’t tell you what you want to hear and you’re totally self-supporting. But, if you disagree with your parents and you are not self-supporting, be prepared to either pay for college or spend some time sulking. Whatever you do, make sure it’s a decision you can live with.
After all factors have been considered, compare your notes, carefully weigh your options and select a college home that will meet your needs, prepare you to meet your future goals and fit your lifestyle. Good luck!