Researching Colleges is Actually Fun
But you rising seniors already know that, right? That’s because you have been researching colleges for months now, because of the great advice we gave you back in February.
For many, this is the best part of the college application process, because it’s all about possibilities. Each time you research a college, you’re trying it on for size, seeing if it fits. You can envision the courses you will take. You can picture yourself stretched out on the grass, hanging out with new friends, or in an art studio, or playing intramural softball.
Or, maybe you just can’t. Fine -- move on to the next college.
Devote some time each day to thoroughly explore one or two colleges at a time. Here’s how to begin:
1. Know yourself first. What are you interested in studying? Where do you want to live? Asking yourself a few key questions helps you find the right colleges more efficiently:
- Biggest interests and passions?
- Students who are like you, or students who are different from you? Or a mix?
- Near to or far from home?
- Four years in one place? Or two years at community college, then transfer? Or, a six-year professional program such as medicine, law or business?
- One-track school such as conservatory, art or engineering? Or liberal arts and ability to dabble?
- Large, small or medium-sized campus?
- Sports as a participant a/o sports as a fan? Or spending Saturdays in the library?
- Rural, suburban or urban?
- North, South, East, West, Middle of the country?
- Four courses a semester? Block system where you totally immerse yourself in one subject at a time? Trimester system? Co-op program where you alternate working and studying?
- Greek life? (Fraternities/sororities). Or, no togas?
- Kids who like to study hard? Or kids who like to play hard? Both? Neither?Colleges generous with financial aid? Or that simply cost less? Or is cost not an issue?
Forget online quizzes that tell you what 1950s movie star you are; there are far better tests – free of charge ̶ that will lend insight into your character, personality, abilities and possible career choices. Naviance’s Do What You Are, the VIA Character Traits questionnaire (www.viacharacter.org) and College Board’s Big Future feature (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-started/know-yourself) are three good ones.
2. Now look at websites and books that feature student reviews and colleges organized by location, state, or major. There are a ton of both out there. Here are just a few.Websites:
Books (look for latest edition):
- Fiske Guide to the Colleges ̶ comprehensive stats and reviews
- Insiders’ Guide to the Colleges
- Princeton Review’s Best 380 Colleges
- Rugg’s Recommendations – colleges listed by majors
- Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope
3. College Visits
It makes sense to visit colleges in summer because of your freer schedule; but some argue that you’ll get a better sense of what colleges are really like when school is in session during the academic year. This is a decision to be made based on the time constraints of you and your parents. Whenever you go, here are some tips for the most effective visit:
- Schedule an interview with an admissions officer or even with a professor whose work you are interested in; but only if you’ve thoroughly researched the college and can ask intelligent and specific questions. Do not ask questions that can easily be answered by the college’s website.
- If you can take a tour separately from your parents, do so. It’s easier to envision yourself at a college when your mother isn’t standing next to you. Also, it’s interesting for both parent and student to compare notes after the visit.
- Eat a meal in the cafeteria. Visit the town. Try out the college WiFi.
- Talk to students who do not work for the admissions office. While college tour guides are great, the information they give you is often scripted. It’s helpful to get “unbiased” answers to your questions by asking a student walking through the quad.
- Most important: take notes! You think you’ll remember that the gym was great at the College of Wooster, but after a bunch of college visits, it all gets blurry.