Meghna Ravishankar shares some of her advice....

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Applied to College

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Completing college applications is an extremely stressful task and causes anxiety in many students, teachers, Internet service providers, the whole lot. Everyone knows that they are obviously a test of endurance, stamina and intelligence, and should therefore be respected from a distance, and feared up close. (You thought high school was hard, LOL). The aim of this article is to hopefully make you a little more confident about your college applications or just a little less stressed out (Success not guaranteed). I am going to relive my application process, and if we both make it out alive, maybe you’ll learn something.

 

Narrow your Choices

Narrowing your list of prospective colleges can be difficult but it’s not impossible. Remember that the rankings of colleges are often based on their grad schools. Consider this while applying and when deciding on a college later on. Many small liberal arts schools are not featured in these rankings but they are by no means less brilliant than the huge, highly ranked research universities (don’t be too quick to brush them aside, most are pretty great). College prowler will be your best friend throughout this process.

 

Finish Tests Early

Get your standardized testing out of the way as soon as possible because it’s just a pain if you try to juggle your applications, standardized tests and schoolwork all at once. Avoid doing the November/December, unless it’s really necessary, because it’s usually around the same time as the midterms in 11th, AND in 12th you’re writing college essays and midterms. I did that and my scores didn’t really improve so: waste of money, waste of time. But you’re not me so do whatever, YOLO.

 

The dreaded SAT: It’s a huge pain and it’s not exactly cheap, around $100 to write a test for over 3 hours; $51 for the test, $40 for being Asian and some random taxes of course because life is incomplete without them. GET IT OUT OF THE WAY.

 

Make sure you check if the colleges on your list have any specific testing requirements (SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, SAT II) and see if you can have them waived. There’s nothing more annoying than having to spend a ton of money on random tests that you could’ve avoided. Some of the smaller liberal arts colleges don’t even require the SAT anymore (YAY liberal arts!).

 

Organize your Thoughts

Writing essays is a time consuming process so start early. Make sure you stick to your deadlines because it’s going to affect YOU in the end, no one else. If you’re sending your essays to a college counsellor don’t be late and expect them to work miracles because they’re people too and believe it or not, they need to sleep at night as well. Ask your teachers and peers to read your essays and give you feedback. That being said, don’t feel the need to take every single person’s opinion into account. It’s very easy to lose your thought process and your voice in an essay when you take everyone’s feedback into consideration. You are trying to convince colleges to choose you for YOU so be true to yourself as much as possible. College admissions committees are not as mean as you think they are. They are more afraid of you than you are of them (once they admit you, you have an insane amount of leverage.) Find out if colleges are need-blind or not. A common belief is that you are less likely to be accepted if you apply for financial aid but this is not always true. If you know people in some of the colleges you want to apply to, talk to them and get a sense of the academic intensity and the expectations that professors might have. This is also helpful when you are choosing where you want to go after the decisions have come out.

 

Enjoy Life

Fast forward. Applications are sent, a huge burden taken off your shoulders. Take a breather because you deserve it for making it this far. Now start stressing about whether colleges actually love you. It’s normal to be stressed while waiting for your decisions but remember, there’s nothing you can change about your applications now. So just have fun while you can. Getting accepted is always fun, getting rejected or deferred, not so much (Feels something like this http://bit.ly/1cuAt4L).

 

Finally you have to pick where you want to go: the perfect place for an amazing experience and a new adventure. Think carefully even if you think you already know where you want to go because the entire application process might change things for you. Trust me on this one. I had to choose between UBC and Grinnell. Before I applied, I had my heart set on UBC and it was a no-brainer when anyone asked me where I was going.

 

When it finally came down to it, however, UBC wasn’t the one for me, even though it was my first love. At the time, I thought I was making a huge mistake by choosing Grinnell but now I can easily say it was the best decision I have ever made (Grinnell is amazing. You should apply! http://www.grinnell.edu). Colleges are like clothes. Imagine that you find a really nice pair of jeans and they look great but they don’t fit you. You squeeze into them anyway but they look terrible on you. Don’t choose a college that doesn’t fit you.

 

Prioritize

Lastly, while choosing the college you want to commit to, have a set of criteria to compare them and make a rational decision. I can’t give you a list of criteria because it depends on what is important to you. One thing I’ll tell you, however, is that WEATHER IS IMPORTANT. It shouldn’t be a determining factor (unless you are very picky about the weather) but I think it’s pretty important. I go to college in Iowa where winters are -20°C on average. Not fun. I’m sure I would’ve transferred by now if I didn’t love my college as much as I do.

 

I know this was long but we both made it through. I hope it helped. These are things that I learned late into my application process so maybe it will help you get a jump on your work. Hang in there! College is such a blast, so I hope you find your perfect fit.

Source: http://thecollegesource.net/prabs-blog/201...

Choosing Best Fit!

Many students will have already heard from some of the schools they have applied to, and most of the others will be replying in March. You will need to decide on a final choice and send in an “intent to register” and a deposit by May 1st.  It is always surprising to me how much more you will learn about a school once you know that you are actually accepted at that school. I guess that it is difficult to really look into all that a school has to offer until it is ACTUALLY a reality. The trick now is to really learn about the school and to imagine what it will be like for you for four years. Now more than ever, you need to forget what everyone else thinks of a school, including various Ranking Organizations, and remember that the goal for you is to find the Best Fit school.
You would have made a list of schools to shoot for that was based on selectivity and chances to get in, but that list should never be considered a hierarchy of schools on preference, only on selectivity. It is now your task to understand which of these schools is now the BEST fit for YOU. With the students that I work with professionally, I work with them on creating a “Right Fit – Matrix”, basically, a spread sheet where you list various things that are important to you along the top row, and the list of schools that you got into on the first column, and then research and rate for yourself how each school reflects these things that are important to you. As opposed to being any formula, the Right Fit Matrix is there to help organize your research. Hopefully, through the process of your research, you will determine the best fit for you.
Remember, college is like a buffet. Huge buffets are not necessarily better, as we can only eat so much. Notable buffets are often over-rated and too expensive. And most of all, a buffet’s benefit is that you can choose what you want. Make sure that the buffet that you are choosing offers you exactly what you are looking for. The next step will be to prepare to actively devour that buffet next fall. Many of your peers will be so excited by the sheer volume of things on offer that they will passively await being served. I am hoping that you will not be shy to grab that plate and begin piling it on right away!!
Some elements to think about when considering your choices.
1. Name Recognition
Large universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges. For example, once you leave the US, you'll find more people who have heard of Stanford University than Pomona College. Both are extremely competitive top-notch schools, but Stanford will always win the name game.
There are several reasons why universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges:
•    Larger schools have more alumni in India because they went to Graduate School there. Remember that those are very different things. Make sure that the school that you choose values undergraduate education.
•    Larger schools are more likely to have NCAA Division I athletic teams.  Flip side of this is that many students are only attracted to the school because of the athletic teams.
•    At research-centered universities, the faculty often publish more and appear in the news more. Flip side of this is that they do not have as much interest in teaching undergraduate students.

2. Professional Programs
You're more likely to find robust undergraduate professional programs in areas like business and engineering at a large university. Smaller schools consider these to be more suitable for Graduate Study and therefore do not have as much of a focus or funding related to those fields. Notable exceptions would be schools like Babson or Bentley for business or Harvey Mudd, Rose Hulman or Franklin W. Olin for Engineering.

3. Class Size
At a liberal arts college, you're more likely to have small classes, even if the student / faculty ratio is higher than at a large research university. You’ll find far fewer giant freshmen lecture classes at a small college than a large university. In general, small colleges have a much more student-centered approach to education than large universities. NOTE: Student-Teacher Ratio is sometimes a scam in that some schools will count EVERY professor who is in anyway attached to the university when calculating that ratio ~ Class size is always a better metric to look at.

4. Classroom Discussion
This is connected to class size -- at a small college you'll usually find lots of opportunities to speak out, ask questions, and engage the professors and students in debate.
5. Access to the Faculty
At a liberal arts colleges and other smaller schools, teaching undergraduates is usually the top priority of the faculty. Tenure and promotion both depend upon quality teaching. At a large research university, research may rank higher than teaching. Also, at a school with master's and PhD programs, the faculty will have to devote a lot of time to graduate students and consequently have less time for undergraduates.

6. Graduate Instructors
Small liberal arts colleges usually don't have graduate programs, so you won't be taught by graduate students. At the same time, having a graduate student as an instructor isn't always a bad thing. Some graduate students are excellent teachers, and some tenured “research” professors are actually lousy.

7. Athletics
If you want huge tailgate parties and packed stadiums, you'll want to be at a large university with Division I teams. The Division III games of a small school are often fun social outings, but the experience is entirely different. If you're interested in playing on a team but don't want to make a career of it, a small school may provide more low-stress opportunities.

8. Leadership Opportunities
At a small college, you'll have a lot less competition getting leadership positions in student government and student organizations. You'll also find it easier to make a difference on campus. Individual students with a lot of initiative can really stand out at a small school in a way they won't at a huge university.

9. Advising and Guidance
At many large universities, advising is handled through a central advising office, and you may end up attending large group advising sessions. At small colleges, the advising is frequently handled by the professors. With small college advising, your advisor is more likely to know you well and provide meaningful, personalized guidance.

10. Anonymity
Do you like being hidden in the crowd? Do you like being a silent observer in the classroom? It's much more easy to be anonymous at a large university.

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Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.
A Final Word
Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.

The Final Choice

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.