This is part two of my “Applying to College” series! I hope that these help some of you in your college search and process. If you missed part one of this series, check it out here: my experience applying to college.
Note: I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form. My advice may not get you into your dream college – it’s just what worked for me!
defining “the right school”
No person’s college choices are going to be completely the same. Every person has different interests, priorities, comfortabilities, and goals that will influence the kinds of schools they pick. This means every person has their own “right school.”
So, what is a “right school?”
A “right school” is a school that when you visit, you can see yourself walking the campus, hanging out with friends, studying in nooks and crannies. It’s a school that gets you excited. It’s a school that fits YOUR wishlist. A “right school” is, essentially, the school that is “perfect” for you.
One thing I really want to emphasize is that everyone’s wishlist and “right school” is different. I want to encourage people to not apply to schools just because all of your friends are – I did this and regretted it because I didn’t actually want to go there. Instead of picking schools based on what other people want, find the schools that appeal to you.
how to find your “right school”
There’s no easy answer to this, but the basis of it is a lot of research. I talked about in my experience post how much time I spent researching schools, and I’m so thankful I did. It’s incredibly important to know your options, to know how many schools are out there. There are hundreds and thousands of schools in the world to choose from, each with unique programs and advantages.
One of my favorite places to research schools was using The College Board‘s search tool. It’s fantastic – you can refine your search based on location, your test scores, the size of the school, etc etc. Then, add them to your list and keep going back and looking through your choices and adding more.
the importance of a wishlist
Most college search engines require refining the terms. You have to choose where the school is, for example. So, before you go onto these search engines, sit down with a notepad and think about the following questions – and don’t think about money:
- Where do I want to go to school? (City, state, part of the country, out of the country?)
- How far do I want to be away from home? (think about driving/flying time!)
- Do I want a co-ed school? Or a single gender school?
- What kind of location do I want – city or more rural, or somewhere in between?
- If in the city, do I want a formal campus or an “immersed” campus? (ex of immersed: NYU, George Washington University)
- How big do I want the student body to be? Small, medium, or large? (Small = <2,000, Medium = 2,000-15,000, Large = >15,000) Most state colleges are in the Medium to Large category.
- Do I want a private or a public college?
- Do I want a religiously-affiliated school?
- Is there a particular program I’m interested in doing in college that needs to be at my school? (Ex: Engineering = a good engineering program is a must.)
- Are there any preferences about student body I want?
- Ex: ratio of male to female students, percent minority, etc
Those are just some examples, but a lot of things will probably arise as you develop a list! Another thing I really suggest everyone look into when they are looking at a school is how many of the students commute. If you’re living full-time at a school and most of the student body leaves for the weekend, then that may make acclimating to a school harder.
After you make a wishlist and look at schools you’re interested, I really suggest visiting a couple of your schools if you can.
I think one important thing to know about visiting colleges is that you don’t have to visit ALL of your schools. I think a lot of people have a tendency to do this, when it’s not necessarily the best use of their time. Before applying, I recommend looking at where a lot of the schools you’re considering are
If you’re applying to mainly out of state schools, I recommend looking at where a lot of the schools you’re considering are located and seeing if you can make a trip and hit three of them in one go. Visiting a school can definitely make a huge difference in whether or not you apply, but it also isn’t the be all end all. If your family can’t swing visiting schools away from home, check out some colleges that are just a road trip away! Go to a variety of sizes, locations, and types if you can. Even if they aren’t the schools you’re planning to apply to, it can give you an idea of the kind of school that you feel most comfortable in.
If you’re applying to schools in-state for the most part, take advantage of that if possible. Go on a road trip with your family and visit some schools! While you’re driving note how long it takes to get from place to place – this may make a difference later in the process.
When making college visits, here are some tips I have for you:
- Go to the school’s website and register for a tour! This is a great time to ask questions and see the campus.
- Do some research on the school before you show up and have a couple of questions prepared to ask your tour guides.
- Ask to go to places you’re interested in visiting! (My request = the library.)
- Check out the area around campus. See what there is to do, how you can get around, etc.
When it comes down to refining your list, compare your schools. Think about what you like in one school and what other ones have that opportunity. Get the best list you can and love all your choices!
Next up in this series:
- Pre-application preparation
- Making a decision
If you have any questions about my process or anything along the way, feel free to comment down below, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or a tweet (@WillasRamblings) and I’ll be happy to reply.