Finding “Best-Fit” Colleges Part 2: Researching the schools
In Finding “Best-Fit” Colleges Part 1, we explored the importance of defining your preferences first. The next challenge is in “mining” the college websites to find if they have what you want. When I think back on my own process in high school, there was no Internet and information was hard to come by. Students now have a different problem, TOO MUCH information! I am not sure which is worse really, as anyone can pay a designer to make a website look amazing!
The Master List: With my own students, I actually create a master list of colleges for them after discussion of the above preferences. I take into consideration the academic profile of a student and the student’s academic choice of study and then create a list of about 40-50 colleges that are grouped into categories of VERY SELECTIVE, REACH, TARGET, SAFE, with about 10 schools in each category. Doing this on your own can be more challenging, but you could try starting with the resource in CollegeBoard (makers of the SAT) called Big Future: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/ They will ask you several parameters and then suggest many colleges. You could then use the college’s average SAT scores (also available on CollegeBoard) to determine which category that school would go in for you. Another similar resource can be found at CollegeXpress: http://www.collegexpress.com/college/search/
The Short List: Though narrowing down to 50 from 3000 is a great thing, 50 schools are still too many to do in-depth research. You need to do some quick slashes first. Don’t worry about why you slash a school, because you can always come back to the master list later. The goal should be to focus on bringing this to a more manageable number that you can begin your research.
Navigating through the college websites: I would actually suggest that you put certain time constraints on yourself so that you do not get frustrated by how much time you spend. For example, I would spend 20 minutes on the college prospective student part of the website, 5 min in the major (s) that I am interested in, 5 min on the organizations and clubs, 5 min scanning various blogs and 5 minutes searching the site for my own interests if I did not come across them. Copy and Paste and take notes so that you can come back to these when writing the “Why this school” essay later.
Here are some other sites that I find useful. But you should experiment and decide which you like:
For college Visit reports and videos: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/visits/
Link to College Confidential’s College Search discussion: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/
Exploring your Preferences: Remember that the main reason that you are looking is to try to find a school that is the Best Fit!! Remember that colleges are also trying to find the “right fit” student. So if you can identify what makes this the right fit school for you, then the converse will also be true, that is, they are more likely to choose you!
College teaching styles are different. Are you the type of student that learns best in a small seminar setting or a large auditorium with lectures and PowerPoint presentations? Everyone’s learning style is different. College size and teaching philosophies will play a role in how well a student will do once he or she arrives on campus. Some colleges have very strict core curriculum requirements while others have none. Do you want flexibility in choosing coursework or are you the type of student that needs a lot of structure? There are colleges that will accommodate both styles. Having a variety of majors to choose from is key because colleges offer majors and concentrations that most students don’t even know about until they get there. Keep an open mind and choose a school with options, because I guarantee there will be a few majors in college you have not been exposed to yet. They could change your academic goals!
The learning happens in and outside the classroom. Most colleges tend to offer a very active social scene. What kind of extra-curricular activities do you want to become involved with when you get to college? What kind of clubs and organizations would you like to explore? What are the other students like?
Every school has a different mission and a different feel, and they all attract different kinds of students. Try to get a feel for what the students on campuses care about. What do they spend their time doing? Are they things you would be interested in? Only about 1/3 of your time will be spent in on academics, so you really should pay a lot of attention to this! Exploring the social life of a campus and understanding whether or not you would fit there is a key factor in choosing a college. Remember to keep an open mind. You will change throughout your college years. If you have a chance to visit campuses to assess the social life and values, ask yourself if these students not only represent who you are, but more importantly, who you want to become.
Researching Social Fit: See the college’s clubs and organizations part of the site. You could also look through the discussion threads on www.collegeconfidential.com about this aspect of the school.
If you have not done so already, you should have an open and honest talk about the cost of education and what your family can a
fford. While many schools do have financial aid, it is limited for International Students. If aid is necessary, it would be a good idea to have a realistic plan and to aim for schools that are traditionally more generous for your kind of profile.
Research for Financial Aid: You can look on college financial aid site, or check with your counselor for past experience. You can also find Financial Aid Calculators on all college sites that will help determine what the “gap” between the cost and what you can afford.
FINAL WORD: It is not easy to do thorough research of all of your schools. You will get frustrated sometimes, feeling that they all look the same. I see this as an advantage, as anything that is tough is an “entry barrier” for others to do well, and hence a clear differentiator for you to excel. This is also one of those really big steps in the process of taking ownership of your own process and decisions. So, give it your best, and as a detective, go out and find some awesome unique and exciting things about the schools that you will eventually target!!