Who Wants To Be A College Student? Part 2

Columbia University

In honor of many of my friends starting their senior year of high school tomorrow, I’m posting the second part of my college application series today. Sounds fun, right? You can read the first part here. This post is going to wrap up things you might want to consider before applying to schools. For those of you have already narrowed down your list, I commend you. When it came to applying to schools, I was a bit of a procrastinator. I’ll explain why in a bit.

Undecided? There’s a lot of pressure to know what you want to do with the rest of your life when you’re just seventeen. Frankly, it’s a little ridiculous. Obviously, if you know it’s your destiny to be a doctor some day, investigate institutions with strong science departments or have competitive medical schools. But in college, people (and their majors) change. For many people, it’s a good idea to keep your options open, which is what’s great about research universities and liberal arts colleges. If you have some idea of possible major, it’s smart to find out what a school is known for or what the most popular majors are.

Private vs. Public. Money is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to college. I might do a whole post on financial aid, but to make a long story short, don’t let the high price tag of private schools discourage you from applying. Since they have larger endowments, they may actually be cheaper than public schools. It’s definitely not always the case, but it doesn’t hurt to apply. The point I’m trying to make is don’t hesitate to apply to a mix of private and public schools.

Boston Univeristy

Early Bird. One of the most annoying things about applications is all the new terminology they throw at you! Among them: early decision, early action, regular admission, and rolling admissions. Not all schools offer each of these options and they each may have their own caveats. Each type of admission deadline has its own pros and cons, so choose wisely and make sure there are no conflicts. (For example, applying early decision is often a binding contract that limits your ability to apply to other schools.) Since I had no clear-cut first choice, I didn’t apply ED anywhere and applied EA wherever I could because I wanted the relief of hearing from schools before Christmas. Whichever option you chose, I would turn in your application as soon as possible. You don’t want to stress out your entire fall semester, plus it’ll give you time to correct any mistakes you might make. And you don’t want to panicking on New Year’s Eve because a slow dial-up connection in Colombia is preventing you from turning in an application. Trust me.

Safety Net. You’ll probably hear this a million times: apply to “safety”, “fit”, and “reach” schools. I only repeat it because it bears doing so. A safety school is one you shouldn’t have a problem getting into, usually a local state school or something of the sort where your grades and test scores would be above average. A match/fit school is one whose student body had high school resumes similar to yours. You’re likely to get in but it’s not a done deal. A reach school is one that’s harder to get into; your scores and grades maybe on the lower end of that school’s spectrum. The best thing to do is to apply to a few schools in each category. You never know what may happen, and you don’t want to always wonder what would’ve happened if you had applied to x school.

Fordham University

Visit! I understand that visiting isn’t in everyone’s budgets- I mean, just applying to schools adds up! Still, when possible, I would recommend visiting campuses. (Actually, all the campus pictures in these posts are my personal photos from college tours.) Some people prefer to visit after being accepted in the spring, but that might leave you in a time crunch. If possible, try to visit before you apply. By the start of my senior year, I had narrowed my list down to about fifteen, sixteen schools. Since many were in Boston or the New York area, my dad and I planned a marathon college tour in late September. We saw eight schools in five days- tours and info sessions! I learned a lot on that trip. It wasn’t just facts and figures about the schools themselves, but about what I was looking for. My overall lesson: I could live in a city environment, as long as my school had a central campus and strong community vibe. Each person can gain a different perspective during college visits, but they can definitely change your opinion and making a mistake in the future.

Talk to your parents. Whether or not your parents are providing financial support for college, you’ll need their emotional support while you go through the application process. It gets stressful, and their guidance is invaluable. Ultimately, you’re the one who will be attending college soon, so it’s a good idea to start being independent and do much of the research on your own. But keep your parents clued in throughout the process.

So what do you think? Did my advice help? 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!

Who Wants To Be A College Student? Part 1

Boston College

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.

The College Bible. No, seriously.

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.)

The University of Miami- not cold.

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.

Barnard College

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!

~ Sarah

5 Reasons I Love the Library

When I was a kid, summer always meant a few things for me: no school, swimming pools, and… trips to the library? (Yes, I was a nerd even back in elementary school.) Summer has always been the best time to catch up on reading- you have hours upon hours to spend reading. But besides checking out books, here are five other reasons to go to your local library:

5. Online Services

Technically, this doesn’t require actually going to your library. Still, it’s great to check out your library’s website to see what services they offer online, such as e-books or digital collections. My favorite feature is placing holds. I can easily browse the catalogs and place holds for items I want to check out. It’s awesome because I can place holds for items that aren’t available in my particular library, but are at other locations in the county. I don’t even have to drive to another location, because my holds will be sent to whichever branch I choose.

4. Volunteer Opportunities

If you’re having trouble finding a job this summer, or just don’t have much to do, check your local library to see if they need volunteers. Throughout high school, I volunteered at my library once a week. Responsibilities vary, but you may shelve books, decorate bulletin boards, help organize events, or tidy up community space. You’ll learn a lot about how libraries really work. It’s a great way to help out your community and meet new people.

3. Library Events

Libraries are always hosting activities and events for the community, especially during the summer months. Just this month, my local library is hosting movie nights, open-mic nights, crafting clubs, language classes, seminars, and computer classes! (Previous events have included book fairs and yoga classes.) The library offers something for everyone, and the best part is many of these events/classes are free.

2. DVD/CD Rentals

I’m really lucky because my library has an absolutely fantastic selection of DVDs and CDs. Checking out CDs at the library offers a lot of musical options, and it’s a legal way to obtain free music. There’s a wonderful variety of movies too, from old-school comedies like Bringing Up Baby to newer releases like An Education. I’m constantly placing DVDs on hold. Plus, because it’s free of charge (unless you want to count the taxes you pay) there’s no need for me to go to Blockbuster or subscribe with Netflix.

1. Relax and Discover Something New

One of the best things about libraries is the peace and quiet they offer. It’s easy to relax while you go through book shelves, or find a comfy armchair to do some reading. There’s no rush at all. And if you spend time regularly at the library, it’s only a matter of time before you learn something new. Whether it’s a new favorite book or hobby, libraries are great place to grow and discover something new about yourself.

What do you think? Do you love going to the library? What are your favorite things about it? And what are you planning to read this summer?

~ Sarah

P.S. Happy Birthday to my friend Vince! 🙂