I can’t believe that it’s been nearly two years since I went through the college application process. Applying to schools is far from fun, but with preparation the process can go pretty smoothly. Honestly, I made plenty of mistakes while I was working on it, but it was definitely a learning experience. That’s why I want to share what I learned- you know, for the greater good and all. This will probably be a mini-series of posts, so the first thing I will cover is this: narrowing down your prospective schools.
In the United States alone, there are more than 4,800 colleges and universities. Obviously, it’s far from practical to apply to so many schools, and I’m pretty sure no one would ever want to! Still, deciding which schools you will ultimately honor with an application is a big decision in and of itself.
Do your research. Think back to before all the college craziness began in high school. How many colleges had you heard of? Unless you’re big into college sports, you probably knew Ivies; local, in-state schools, and few other big names. And then, sometime after you took the PSAT your sophomore year you were absolutely inundated with college mailings from places you’ve never even heard of? Well, just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean you should dismiss it right away. I kept nearly every single mailing that came my away and set aside time to go through it when my piles got overwhelming. You never know when something might catch your eye.
Certainly, those pamphlets don’t tell you everything. They are advertisements after all. It’s important to use other resources. My favorite? The Princeton Review Guide to the Best (X Amount) Colleges. (Before you ask, I’m not sponsoring them, but if you’re interested, you can buy the book here. You can always borrow an old copy from a friend or check out a past edition from your library because the information really doesn’t vary from year to year.) Besides their famous rankings, there’s an entry covering each selected school containing essential facts (location, enrollment, tuition, etc.) and descriptions from the admissions office and actual students there.
The summer before my senior year, I lugged the Princeton Review (or phonebook as my grandma called it) around everywhere. I went through every entry carefully (except the ones I eliminated right off the bat, but more on that soon). Using colored Post-Its, I marked the schools that appealed to me. (You should know I love color-coding.) I think the first time I went through the book I had at least sixty schools picked. Then I went through the list more in-depth, checking out school websites and adjusting my interest level when necessary. Although time-consuming, this was super-helpful because I found out about more schools, even some that didn’t send me mailings. Pretty exciting stuff.
Consider secondary factors. By secondary factors, I mean things besides a school’s reputation, majors, tuition, etc. For example, since I went to a mega-high school (5,000 students, 1,200+ in my graduating class) I knew a tiny school, no matter how academically prestigious, wouldn’t be the right fit for me. So consider the little things that may not cross your mind at first. Do you want a diverse school with a lots of nationalities represented? Small classes? What about resident/commuter populations? Greek Life? These factors shouldn’t be dealbreakers, but they will affect your happiness while at school, so take them into account. Especially…
Location, location, location. Knowing that I wanted to be in or near a city or urban center for internship purposes helped me eliminate schools. Plus, I pretty much wanted to stay in the South/East Coast. So, for me, any school that was in the Midwest was out of the running. I didn’t even bother looking into them, because I knew I wouldn’t want to go. (Yes, Northwestern, I know you have a really great broadcast program. But guess what? It’s cold in Illinois.)
Keep an open mind. When I was reading through the Princeton Review, some random schools caught my attention. I never thought I would be interested in attending an all-girls school, but I fell in love with Barnard College. It’s a decent-sized school, located in Manhattan, with outstanding academics and a partnership with Columbia University. With that in mind, Barnard being a women’s college became another positive, not a negative. So girls, don’t disregard great schools like Mount Holyoke College or Wesleyan College because they’re women’s colleges- they might surprise you.
On a similar note, if you really like a school and then see it has a religious affiliation unlike your own, don’t automatically lose interest. Look in to it. Some schools may have religious histories (the Ivies, most of which were founded by Puritans, come to mind) but there are no strong connections remaining. At many Jesuit colleges, you may have to take theology or service courses, but you certainly don’t have to be a practicing Catholic. Every school is different, so investigate.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll stop here. I could go on though, trust me- I already have half of another post written. My next post in this series will cover the more practical things to consider when deciding which schools to apply. I hope my first few tips helped! For those of you who’ve already been through the process, do you have anymore advice? Do my suggestions remind you of anything you did? I look forward to seeing what you guys think!