Originally written for ParentEdge By Prab Singh: http://parentedge.in/
Finding “Best-Fit” Colleges Part 1: Your Preferences
I often liken the process of approaching your college search like that of having a friend from out of town come to visit and ask to be taken to the mall. If your friend then said, “Take me to the best store here.” Your likely response would be, “Well, what do you want?” Similarly, you should approach college search the same way, decide first what you are looking for. Most families will start with thinking about the student’s chances to get in or the “prestige” of the college through things like rankings or name brand. While both of those are areas that you should consider, they are not the elements that will make a student happy, or successful. So start with some key preferences. I have described some below, but feel free to make this as specific to your own preferences as you would like. There are over 3000 universities in the US alone, so narrowing down to what makes a school good “for you” will greatly help you in choosing these.
Academic Life: What are your academic interests? Not necessarily your “Major”, that may change and is one of the great things about the flexibility of the US Undergrad program, just think about what areas are you interested in. What is your academic ability? We often think that getting into the most selective college, whether we are academically capable of dealing with it or not, is the best thing. But just ask an overwhelmed student mid way through the semester what he thinks of this logic. Sometimes it might be better to be the Big fish in a Small pond.
Size: If you thrive at a small school where there is a lot of individual attention, you may not be happy at a large university. Larger schools may be very exciting, have amazing sports and a huge choice of great majors and professors, but you may be more successful in a place where accountability is built in with smaller classes and getting to know your faculty.
Location and Setting: This includes geographical area as well as setting (rural, suburban, urban college town). Try to imagine what it will be like in those environments; and don’t forget to consider the weather! Remember, you will be there for 4 years! If you like to be near theatre, museums, and nightlife, you may want to reconsider a rural college that has little access to the cultural offerings of a city-based school.
Social Life/Extracurricular Activities: Making friends and meeting new people is a vital part of college life, so you will want to consider whether a school is coeducational or single sex; the ratio of males to females; or the general student-body atmosphere. If sports and clubs are important to you, be sure that that school has a variety of extracurricular activities. Note the ones that connect to what you want to do, as that is a great way to link yourself to the school, but look at some that you might want to “risk” trying, as college is all about trying new things!
After you have made a list of things that constitute your “preferences”, you may want to look into your constraints:
Admission Standards: After you've completed your personal evaluation-taking into consideration your course-work, grades, test scores, class ranking, general academic strengths, as well as your outside interests and accomplishments-you must honestly decide whether you are eligible for admission to a particular school. Again, I would urge you to really question schools that are a major stretch for you academically. If you do get in, will it be worth it to have to work like a dog just to be in the bottom third of class? Keep in mind that the best outcomes come to those who graduate in the top of their class!
Cost: For International students, financial aid is limited. If cost is an issue, definitely understand the institutional aid offered at the school. You may also want to look into public schools in the mid-west region of the US, they tend to be less expensive. I would like to de-mystify one myth I have heard many times, “it is easy to get into the Top schools if you can pay for it”. This is not true, they have plenty of applications in the “no-need” category. However, it is definitely true that it will be more difficult in many schools to get admission if you apply for financial aid. The reason is that they may not have enough money to offer you and would then think that you would not be able to come. Therefore, they would rather say no to you than you say no to them.
So, where do you find all of this information?
In Finding “Best-Fit” Colleges Part Two I will explore how to do the research on these preferences and constraints defined above. For now, start making your shopping list and enjoy the process of defining your own PERFECT school.