Applying to college is one of the biggest milestones in your life. And choosing the right school(s) for you is super important. This is the moment you take stock of everything you’ve done up till now — all the choices you’ve made, successes and failures — and set your goals for the future.
But before you apply, you have to know WHERE to apply!
There is an art to making the college list. And it’s very important. You have to have a healthy spread of reaches, targets, and of course, the all-important safeties.
You have to make sure you find the right schools for you – not just any schools, or the most prestigious schools, but the colleges that fit you.
Although the information in this post is directed towards students trying to figure out where they want to apply, it could equally well be used by students who have already gotten in and want to figure out how to choose a college to attend.
Having been in the business of getting kids into their dream schools for the past thirty years, I have had the benefit of seeing students through the entire process. Often I meet students in their freshman and sophomore years when they have NO IDEA what they might want to “be with they grow up” or what criteria one would even consider in choosing which colleges to apply to. They have no idea how to choose a college.
They don’t have a clue and why should they?
Students need guidance. Not just in making a college list, but in knowing how to even think about making a college list.
From my own personal experience, I can tell you that even though both my parents were high school teachers, no one helped me figure out which schools to put on my list. No one even spoke to me about it. A friend was applying to William & Mary. I thought, “Why not? That sounds good.” There was a lot of snow in Vermont. My friend Amanda Ellman had a summer house there. Vermont is beautiful. Why not apply to UVM? I got a letter from Harvard. That seemed like a stretch, but hey, they wrote me first. Finally, completely flummoxed, I ended up going to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. It had one of the highest acceptance rates into med school in the country, believe it or not. And I was a Premed English major. Perfect. There was snow, all right! From October to May. Nothing against Allegheny College, which now appears in the book Colleges That Change Lives, but it was definitely not for me. Too small, too cold, too isolated. Put Meadville on your weather app and you’ll get the picture!
I credit Allegheny College with putting fire under my feet (or snow as the case may be) to seek out some place that was the polar (no pun intended) opposite. I had been to California once when I was a teen (that’s a story for another time) and I loved it. I happened upon the hard copy (imagine that?) catalogue for UC Santa Cruz in the college office of my high school over winter break when I went back to visit my mom who taught in the same high school I attended. Flipped through it. Found a major in History of Consciousness, saw the redwoods, the ocean, the radical “no grades” policy – and the rest was history. I got a GREAT undergraduate education there. It was the perfect place for me and opened my eyes to so many new possibilities.
Know Thyself! And Know thy colleges!
The thing is that picking the right school involves two important pieces of information: You must know yourself and know the colleges that you are applying to. How you get to know the colleges is perhaps easier even than knowing yourself. And I will save that for later.
The first step is determining what your criteria are. What is most important to you? Size? Social Life? Selectivity?
It will help you identify to/for yourself which factors you desire and which you can’t live without.
Once you have identified what’s important to you in a school, you’ve got to find “matches” for yourself – colleges that fit the bill in the locations you desire.
You can do this any number of ways. There are tools out there to compare colleges and to get basic information about each school.
You can, for example, go to UNIGO.COM to hear first-hand accounts from the students who are attending that school. You can use College Prowler, now known as Niche.com to see their rankings of the top 100 schools in America. You can use the Fiske guide if you like to hold something in your hands and mark it up. You can go to CollegeBoard.org, click on Big Futures, then on College Search and enter schools that interest you. The benefit of this last tool is that you will also get information about other, similar schools that students applied to. This may even help you generate more options.
In the course of a very long career, I have also seen students make mistakes in choosing which schools to attend. It’s not the end of the world. You can always transfer. But it would be nice to get it right the first time ‘round.
IMHO, the best and most effective way to make a list of potential schools to which you will apply is to seek counsel from an expert like myself who can ask you the right questions, someone who has a broad knowledge of what’s out there, someone who can give you a clear sense of the “flavor” of the place and whether it would be a good fit for you. As for choosing which college you should choose to attend (once you get in, of course), there’s no replacement for going to visit and seeing for yourself!
This is one of the most exciting aspects of my job!
If you’re an 11th grader, the time is NOW to make your college list.
And you’re in luck because I’m enrolling 11th graders now for the 2019-2020 academic year!