Navigating the Great College Collage
Author Ben Snyder
“So, have you thought about where you want to go yet?” High school juniors everywhere know too well what this question means. For those already fixed on a favorite college, the answer is easy. For the vast majority of others, though, the task at hand seems daunting and many look covetously at the seniors flaunting college gear as they skip carefree through the halls. Hopefully, those in the latter group (or their parents) will benefit from this article.
Despite the gravity of choosing one’s future, the college search process can be easy and even fun. Already, Charter students begin with a strong hand in the admissions game, in part because of a robust school counseling system. Over the years charter students have attended a staggering number and diversity of schools. The list of acceptances from 2015-2016 alone spans a full page in what must be size 10 font, ranging alphabetically from Albright College to York College of Pennsylvania. With thousands of colleges in the US, the difficulty is finding the right fit for each student.
What should students and parents consider to find a great fit? What should juniors already be doing to find colleges?
These are both important questions, and the answers differ for each student. First, fit. To find a good fit in a college, the aspects one should consider can be split into two main groups. Most obviously, students should think about academics. Academic motivation of students on campus, distribution requirements, difficulty, majors, teaching quality, the availability of research--all these should factor into the decision to apply.
As Charter counselor Mrs. Gosser remarks, in addition to studying at college “[students] are going to be living there.”
So for those with a hatred of the long winter months, New England might not be the right place. Beyond climate, factors like clubs, housing, dining, location, sports, and even political identification and religious beliefs should help to shape a student’s view about whether a campus is a nice place to live. For each person, these attributes take on a different importance, so there really is no one formula.
Although certainly important, knowing what to look for is only the first step: finding out whether a college meets those criteria is also essential for a successful search.
Charter provides a great resource for just this task: Naviance. This website brings together inventories, personalized info based on grades and test scores, a powerful college search tool, and a space to compile research and eventually components of the application process.
“Naviance is sort of your platform,” Mrs. Gosser says, advising current juniors to begin scouting schools and interests online. Several tools juniors should pay close attention to are the “colleges I'm thinking about” list and the college profile database accessible through the college search engine. Combined, these two options give students the power to sort through colleges based on their preferences and then keep track of those that catch their eyes.
Once a school is identified as a potential interest, using its website and other resources, students should dive deeper and research it thoroughly. Mrs. Gosser warns against relying on rankings such as those published by the Princeton Review and others because they tend to focus on aspects of a school that may not pertain to the student.
Another important step is the college visits. Visits provide a great source of information as well as demonstrating interest to that school’s admissions team (a bonus that may help in when it comes to applying). College visits also allow a person to get an intangible “feel” for the place and the people that go there. If students can’t picture themselves on campus, they probably shouldn't apply.
Of course, sometimes visiting isn't an option. Fortunately, many colleges recognize this and offer information sessions and even virtual tours on their websites. Other ways to show interest also exist: writing supplemental essays or taking an alumni interview are other ways to help round out an application. But that is a topic for another day.
For now, juniors should try and enjoy exploring colleges and following their passions. After all, as Mrs. Gosser stressed, “this is your decision” and the journey is all in the hands of the traveller. You might be surprised about how fun it can be.