I saw some advice recently that closely mirrors a suggestion I’ve been making in my admission speeches for years. To start thinking about colleges, I recommend making a list of the five to ten things you want most out of college, and the five to ten colleges you think you might want to consider. No less than five, but you could do more than ten if you really want.
When you make your list of stuff you want, try to make all the different majors you are considering just one of the five to ten things – even if there are maybe a million or so majors you are still considering.
Try to be outside the box in thinking about the things on your list. Avoid, for instance, “big” or “small”. Try instead to think about why the number of students might matter – maybe you want more personal attention (fortunately EVERY school will brag about their personal attention). Or you may want a wider range of academic options. Also avoid urban/suburban/rural, and try listing what it is about those locations that appeals to you.
You can also go for atmosphere – Some of you may want the “ideal” college: ivy covered buildings with green, rolling hills where the great minds of your age join together to ponder philosophical possibilities until the wee hours of the night. Or you may just want to party. That may, of course, be the same school.
Also feel free to include climate. Hey, if you hate the cold then avoid cold climates – there are plenty of schools in the south. If you love to ski, maybe the desert is the wrong location. You heard it here first.
Ask your parents, friends, and acquaintances to take the same exercise. Finally, look at your list, your parents’ lists, your friends’ lists, and all those not very helpful lists on the college search engines and add anything that looks really good to you. Now try moving your list around into some rough rank order, with the THINGS YOU MUST HAVE at the top, and the things, like “I really hope the school colors don’t clash with my eyes,” at the bottom (unless that’s really important to you – Who am I to judge?).
Thanks to technology you can do the next step in the comfort of your home (or in class – whatever). Compare the schools you listed with the stuff on your list. You may be amazed (or not) at the differences. Keep doing this exercise with the shiny brochures you receive in the mail. Make three piles – most of what I want, some of what I want, very little of what I want. Suddenly you will find you have considerably narrowed your search.
The next step, as I mentioned a few days ago, is to refine your lists, and your assessments of possible schools, with campus visits. Some time in the next few days (unless I get distracted again) I’ll post some suggestions for campus visits as well. Be seeing you!