Choosing From Nearly 4,000 Colleges: Where To Begin

People will tell you that your high school years make up the best four years of your life. And then when you’re headed off to college, they say your college years are the best four years of your life. So, I’m here to tell you that high school and college equate to the best eight years ever. However, in order to reach the final majestic years, it’s crucial that you conquer the (sometimes) brutal application process; and since you’ve most likely already taken the SAT’s/ACT’s, your next step involves actually considering where you want attend. I know, you’re either the person who knows exactly where they want to go or you’re like me, a baffled wanderer that spent so much time focusing on perfecting his or her profile that once ambushed with the time to apply, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

So, seniors, here are a few tips to help you crawl out of that hole and pinpoint just where to begin.

1. What’s your major? Or, what field are you leaning toward?

Scary question – I’m aware – but choosing can actually be quite simple. Make a list of the things you do during your free time and your favorite subjects in school. Do you live that book worm life? Do you keep up with Psychology Today or The Economist? Do you constantly re-decorate your room or photograph everything with the potential to be in National Geographic? Are you an avid blogger? How about a vlogger? Do you happen to obsess over fluctuating stock prices or do you get sucked into the world of science with the latest bio-tech advancements? Grace Coddington fans, is Vogue your bible? Maybe you are infatuated with the military and its affiliations, and in that case, you can actually join any of their many branches or check out military schools.

Reflect on the kind of person you are. Are you a right or left brained thinker? Are you inclined to thinking creatively or logically? Analyze your personality – introverted or extroverted? Do you prefer routine or flexibility, serenity or a good dose of adrenaline? Do you thrive when under pressure? These are all pointers to single out what area you’d be best at. If you need further help, Google a couple of career quizzes. They are fairly helpful at underscoring your strongest traits!

2. Think about school size and location.

Now that you have an idea of what it is you want to do, check out schools that specialize in those fields. This will allow you to really excel in your track and use the ample resources many colleges offer. Find out the college rankings – do the schools you are looking at meet your prospects? Make sure that academically, the schools you pencil into your list meet or exceed your expectations.

Next, consider the location. Keep in mind that there are infinite things to consider with location. Each place has its own culture, tradition, and WEATHER- ha, that’s a big one. I certainly did not consider weather when choosing Boston. Ask yourself these questions: are you comfortable with what you have now or do you want something different? Do you prefer the city, suburb, or the country?  How about a place that transitions through the four seasons? Or would you favor a place that experiences hot/cold extremes year-round? (If you are by any chance thinking about South Florida, yes, it offers fabulous tanning weather all year, but its humidity calls for the ultimate death of hair).

How about size? Think of your current high school and decide whether you want something similar, larger, or smaller. Most importantly, do you want to leave your hometown, and does that entail moving across the country or moving one hour away? Location is an excellent way to narrow down your choices. When you finish your list of schools, look up their acceptance ratings and classify them as either “safety schools” (the ones you’re sure you’ll get into) or “reach schools” (the ones that you think your chances of being accepted are slim, but possible).

3. Apply and visit!

Apply, apply, apply to all of the schools on your list! Yes, some have dreadful supplements; yes, some require multiple essays; and yes, others require additional forms. But take on the task – you will thank yourself later. Visit the schools if you can! Admission officers like to see that you are interested and while you’re there, schedule an interview! Call the admissions office and schedule an appointment beforehand to set up an interview on the day of your campus tour.

If you are unable to visit, set up a phone interview. Also, immediately after you have finished the interview, always remember to snail-mail a brief handwritten “Thank You” letter to your interviewee. “How come?” you ask. Demonstrating manners increases your chances of being remembered during the decision process, and college admission officers they will highly appreciate this minimal effort (which could end up making all the difference!).

4. Do your research.

Once you’ve received your batch of large envelopes, put to use your savvy research skills – you know, the ones you have picked up from social media. Sometimes the slightest details make the biggest difference, such as what financial aid each college offers or takes. Grants? Scholarships? FAFSA? Apply to any opportunity and you’ll be surprised at how cooperative many schools are with your needs.

Aside from finances, look up their student life. How’s their school spirit level? Are there any clubs that look interesting? Is Greek life a major component in their culture? What courses do they have available for your major? Check out their food options and research school reviews from current students. Maybe even revisit the school if you need to, but it is essential to open your mind up to new things and refrain from setting limits on things you have never experienced before. Leaving your comfort zone is the key to getting the best out of any experience, especially this one!

Choosing between 4,000 colleges can sound quite intimidating, but the process is also a great process of self-discovery! It takes self-reflection, exploration, and determination. And don’t forget that wherever you wind up, there are two things every college guarantees: 2:00 a.m. library visits and glorious day naps.