The search for the "perfect" college can be a very overwhelming and intimidating process, but only if you allow for such. I might be biased, but I believe the college search process is one of the most exciting times of a young adult's life! Where will he or she spend the next four years? What type of fabulous connections and authentic friendships will he or she make? Like most other things in life, there is no perfect way to begin other than just diving in and believing for the best.
I've put together a few tips to make the quest to find the "right" school easier:
1) START EARLY! I cannot stress this enough. I think that it makes all the difference in the world. Many clients ask me how early is too early. In my opinion, there are two types of college visits you should undertake prior to a student's senior year. The first, merely a visit to see what college is like, how college operates, and to get a general feel for college campuses. These type of trips can begin very early with the prime time for such visits occurring during a student's 7th, 8th, and 9th grade years. The second type of visit is a more targeted one with specific goals in mind. Perhaps you will attend a college tour, sit in a class, tour the dorms, eat on campus, attend a sporting event, or schedule a meeting with an admissions officer... These types of trips to narrow down the college playing field are best suited, in my opinion for the summer preceding a student's sophomore or junior year. The pressure of finding the "perfect school" is not as strong, and students are mature enough to categorize information and experiences for future decisions.
2) Narrow down the playing field! There are over 2,000 four-year colleges in the U.S. alone; as a student's junior year approaches, it is time to narrow the playing field. How can you do that? RESEARCH. As a private college consultant, this is my favorite part of the job... matching student's strengths, interests, wants, and family financial situations to potential colleges. At times I feel like a matchmaker of sorts, and I am always so thrilled when one of my students falls in love with a college I have found for them. I am planning a whole other post on making your potential college lists, but the following are some basic tools that I use when researching colleges:
•The Princeton Review: The best 379 Colleges (2015). If you look on Amazon, you will find dozens (if not more) of college guide books. This is hands-down my favorite. I do occasionally browse others, but I always find myself coming back to the Princeton Review.
•U.S. News College Compass. This is updated yearly (with a $30 fee) with rankings based on tons of different categories. I highly recommend spending the yearly fee to obtain this great information. There is also a free site put out by U.S. News & World Report with great information, albeit not nearly as detailed.
•The College Board "College Search" tab. This is a great site for students that are just beginning their college search.
3) Request College Brochures. Once you have narrowed down the playing field, look up your prospective colleges and request information! I love the internet and all of its resources, but there is nothing quite like a glossy pamphlet or brochure to help me fall in love with a school.
4) Revisit Schools. The summer before a student's senior year, or even the spring break before, is a great time to revisit the top schools on a student's list. This time you need to get into the nitty gritty of academic and campus life! Schedule a tour for sure, request a meeting with an advisor or admissions representative, tour those dorm rooms, visit a class if allowed, check out the town, ASK QUESTIONS.
5) DON'T STRESS! In all honesty, there really is NOT such a thing as the "perfect" school. While Harvard might be the right fit for the guy sitting in front of you in CHEM II, it might not be the perfect school for you. Maybe you're better suited for Cornell, NYU, or Tufts... all still "perfect" schools if they perfectly suit you. Don't stress. This is a very exciting time in life where the road ahead is limitless... make the college search process an exciting time as well.
If we at Select Academic Consulting can help you in any way during your college search/application/interview process, please contact us. And, stay tuned, for our tips on making a potential college list.