How to start finding the right college for you


As a recent comment makes clear, the process of deciding what makes a school “right” is anything but simple.  Unfortunately, a lot of the material out there just makes things more confusing.

The colleges and universities will send you brochures that rival the best magazines, online movies of their schools, podcasts…even, as I noted in a recent post, take out personal ads about you locally.  In every case the campus looks BEAUTIFUL and the students pretty much look like the cast of Gossip Girl.  From the descriptions, it looks like every school has everything you could ever want, and of course declares that this institution is probably the ONLY one for you. 

Then you get to the rankings, search engines, websites, etc.  The numbers are confusing, and don’t match, and many make no sense to you at all.  Do you really care as an undergraduate applicant how many books they have in the library?  Aren’t you more interested in the access to documents from the connection in your room (or anywhere else on campus).  And, as I’ve described elsewhere (and will likely do so again), the colleges have all kinds of ways to make some of their numbers look better, making you wonder how you really tell the difference.

Then you also have to wonder, especially on the rankings and lists, how much weight is placed on things you don’t care about.  Do you care as much about faculty salary, for instance, as US News and World Report does? 

College counsellors and admissions officers talk a lot about fit, and as a result we’ve reached an intensity of stressing you out to find the RIGHT school.  Here’s the start of my two cents on the issue (maybe even a nickel).  You need to start by deciding which factors matter to you, not just taking a list you were handed.  Part of that is going to visit schools every chance you get, even those not on your radar, so that you can hear our propaganda and decide if there are some new things to add to your list or some old ones to take off.  You also need to keep in mind that there is no perfect school, that every study done finds name recognition wildly overrated in proportion to your future job/income, and that you are looking to find a bunch of schools that would be great to attend, not an ultimate dream school.  Over the next few days I’ll get into some examples – questions to ask and things to consider.  But in the meantime, and here’s my best advice, don’t just go to the college because you fall in love with the girl/guy on the brochure.  No…really.  Be seeing you.

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7 Responses

  1. What is the anticipated effect of GMU’s tuition increase with respect to applications? Specifically, will the new out of state tuition rate – $11,238 per semester – decrease the number and quality of out of state applicants? Finally, if Mason stops being the bargain school for the DC area, how will it attract new students?

    Thanks!

  2. Great question. The bulk of the increase was focused on increasing need-based aid, and at this point that seems to have been well received by admitted students. We have a far higher deposit rate than last year, and possibly the highest in our history, especially among out of state students.

    I suspect part of this is driven by the reality of Mason as a bargain, which I don’t think is likely to change. Even with this increase, Mason is still less than half the cost of the other nationally competitive D.C. area institutions. The one exception is University of Maryland, and it’ll still cost FAR more to be a terp than a Patriot. This raises a good question, however – how much do students look at the price when selecting a school? At leat one institution I know of PURPOSELY raised their cost above everyone else to get their applications to go UP!! The theory there was that the higher the cost, the more students think it’s worth…scary!

  3. This is off topic but I have to ask…. I’ve noticed your occasional sign off of “Be seeing you” Were you a fan of the 1960’s TV show The Prisoner?

  4. Absolutely!

  5. Thanks I thought so. Enjoy your blog. Have a son who will be a senior in September. But the real reason I am here is because:

    “We want information, information, INFORMATION”

    Be seeing you

  6. I think another good way to find out which college you want to go to is to visit some student forums and ask about the school. College Confidential is the most popular site for this and I see a lot of students that ask whether students really like the school or not. Just a thought.

  7. Also very important to bear in mind that a lot of the information you’ll find on those forums is bogus. Rival schools and disguntled students routinely post false negatives, while crafty admissions officers hire students to go out and say wonderful things. It may be better to ask students you KNOW and trust, rather than relying on open mesage boards from people you’ve never met.
    Also, I encourage you to focus on finding things to put on (or take off) your list, rather than finding a perfect school. The idea that a schools is “right for you” sounds too much like searching for a spouse!

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