“College” + “Applications”
If you’re an upcoming senior in high school, these are probably two of the most dreaded words in the English language. The notion of of college itself can lead to so many questions:
“What type of college do I want to go to?”
“What if I don’t choose the right school?”
“What if I don’t get in?”
I get it. Applying to colleges isn’t easy, and the pressure of finding the “perfect fit” makes it even harder. I graduated from high school a year ago and I still remember application season as if it was yesterday. Here’s a list of lessons I learned in the process that will hopefully make your senior fall a little bit easier.
1. Remove bias
When you’re beginning to look at colleges and universities, it’s easy to immediately turn to the “big name” schools and think those are the only options (Ivy leagues, major sports schools, etc.). Try to start with a clean slate. If you let yourself consider as many schools as possible, regardless of how well they’re known by others, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out what truly appeals to you. Then you can begin to narrow down your personal “requirements.”
2. Think about what’s important
What’s important to you in a school? One of the biggest issues I’ve found in the application process is that many students form their personal preferences based on their “dream school,” rather than the other way around. I recommend taking a moment to visualize your dream day at college. Close your eyes and picture yourself: are you walking through a snow-covered campus? Do you recognize everyone you pass? Are you wearing head-to-toe school apparel, cheering for your team in a massive stadium? Imagining an ordinary day at college can help you figure out what is important to you and what you consider irrelevant.
3. Now, get specific
Once you’ve visualized the broad factors of your school, begin to think about the specific aspects of college that matter most to you. This is the time to begin considering your intended major and its presence within the school. Do you dream of an entirely technical school, where you are surrounded by like-minded students who all have a passion for STEM? Are you imagining a big research university with a strong technical program? Or maybe you prefer a liberal arts college, where you can blend you interests in tech with a perspective from other fields? There are so many different kinds of schools, so consider all of your options and think about what appeals to you most.
4. Personality over appearance
The personality of a school is one of the hardest things to identify, but it should be a major part of your decision. A school could have everything you could possibly want, but if you don’t clique with the general vibe, you won’t be completely happy. I’ve found the best way to figure out a school’s personality is to visit and talk to people. Walk around the campus, sit in a class, ask current students questions, and if possible, stay overnight.
If you can’t visit a school, bring out your inner stalker (we all have one, don’t lie). Look through college review sites, facebook friend your random acquaintance who goes to the school… dig deep into the internet and see what people have to say online.
5. Consider your entire list
You should now have a clear idea of the kind of school you want to go to. Everyone has a different list - some apply to five “reach schools,” others apply to one. However many schools you choose to apply to, make sure you like every single one. Don’t just apply to a random school because you think it would be a good “safety.” Ideally, you should be able to be happy at each school on your list.
I know it’s hard to trust in the system, especially when it seems like everything is rigged, but let the application process unfold. Wherever you end up, you will learn a lot, meet inspiring people, and grow as an individual.