One of the most important steps in applying to college is figuring out which ones you're going to apply to (go figure). I haven't made up an official list of colleges I'm applying to yet, but I do know what I'm interested in. My views have gone through a long evolution, and if you look at the past three years, I've wanted pretty much everything. But here's where I stand now.
Setting. I want to be in or near a city. I've always been attracted to the hustle and bustle of big cities. Driving through LA, especially in the morning, I can literally feel the extreme levels of energy caused by the people and the cars and the buildings and the planes. I absolutely love that feeling. I also really like the feel of San Francisco. I'm willing to waive the setting requirement as long as I'm within an hour or so of a city -- for weekend trips and such. I've lived in the suburbs for 17 years, so I'd prefer not to have to do it for four more. And as much as I love the scenery and peacefulness of the countryside, I'm afraid I'll have to reserve that for vacations. The opportunities a city has -- for jobs, internships, arts and culture, food, etc. -- cannot be matched by any natural beauty. What can I say? I'm a pragmatist.Have you seen your scholarship matches recently? Look now.
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Students. I want to go to a school where the students are there to learn, first and foremost. Personally, I'm going to college to get an education, and I want that to be the primary focus of the people around me as well. I don't have a problem with partying, I just don't want that to be the reason everyone's there. This is probably the most nebulous requirement - it's the hardest to determine. How do you define a school's students? Usually the best you can do is go by the school's reputation, but for a more quantitative view, I like to look at the number of students involved in Greek life as an indicator of how serious the students are about partying. (Obviously the point of fraternities isn't always about getting wasted... but it's the best I can do.)
Size. Size is one of the things I've struggled with most in determining what I want. I could see myself at a small, midsize or large university, and ultimately the quality of the school's program will outweigh its size for me. I have recently concluded, however, that although each size has its advantages, I am more enticed by large universities than small ones. Recently on an online college discussion forum, I read something about the merits of a big school (namely UCLA).
The author acknowledged that at a large university, you can choose to be just another number, or you can play an active role in what you get out of college and make it personal for you. Many people prefer small colleges because you get more individual attention. The author's point was that this may be true, but only if you are unwilling to seek out help for yourself. No one is going to stop you in the middle of campus and ask how they can help you, but if you seek out the people who can help you, they will be more than happy to assist you. The bottom line is that if you're a proactive person, there is an untold wealth of opportunity waiting for you at a large school. I am very proactive, so I think this would be best for me.
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Study Abroad. I'm really interested in studying abroad for at least a semester. I think that international experience is very advantageous, especially in an increasingly global economy. The good thing is that most schools have a study abroad program, but the extensiveness of each school's varies. Some have limited options as far as how long you can stay or what countries you can go to.
So I have a basic framework of what I'm looking for, and it has helped me in eliminating some colleges from my list and adding some others. But as you can see the list is pretty broad; it's still a difficult task. It's difficult because I try not to rule out a school just for one reason; I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Eventually, I'll have to cut it down and stop being nice. Actually, that'll be really soon!