The college search can be a stressful experience. Looking through countless school websites, articles, and rankings, all the schools can start to run together, appearing no different from the next.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when narrowing your options – they might just bring back your sanity!
Strength of Program
The college search, for me, was all about how strong my intended major was at that school. Wanting to become a writer, it was important that I would build my skills in English while attending the school. That was how I came upon my first choice, Kenyon College.
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Talk to your counselor, do a Google search, or find a book in the library to find the top notch schools for your intended major.
Public, Liberal Arts or Career Prep Curriculum Focus?
Public colleges and universities typically have a set curriculum. Every freshman has the same requirements and takes similar courses. The first couple of years are to get those general education credits out of the way before moving on toward your major.
It is similar at a liberal arts college. You take classes outside your major to fulfill graduation requirements. However, they are a bit more forgiving. You do not have to take a specific class. Instead, you must fulfill what colleges refer to as “distribution requirements.” To adhere to these, you must take a certain number of classes from English, science, math, etc. For someone without a clue what they want to do for a career, this is a good option because you have a lot of wiggle room to experiment and find what subject you are interested in pursuing.
If you are interested in art, engineering, or something where you need a lot of connections, consider a school that focuses on career development. You will take a couple of general education classes, pick your major, and then participate in a co-op or internship as part of your graduation requirements. Not only do you gain invaluable experience through these programs, but the connections you build there often lead to permanent jobs.
If you are more comfortable in a small class, then this could be the deciding factor for you. Liberal arts colleges typically have smaller numbers, but almost all colleges and universities have smaller, upper level classes.
The number on the website is not going to give you an accurate count. Do not look at “average class size” or “student/faculty ratio.” These may give you an idea so you can start looking, but the best way is to make a phone call or sit in on a freshman level course.
Do you want to be close to home? Are you looking for a rural or city campus? Do you want to be close to the coast or in the mountains? These are things to consider – after all, this will be your home for the next few years.
Acceptance Rates and ACT/SAT Scores
Do not be afraid to apply to a school with higher average scores than your own. If that school is where you want to go, apply.
Realize that you are really going to have to prove yourself with your essays and extracurricular activities, but you still have a chance. Remember to have a few backup options where your scores are generally accepted.
Think about which of these categories is most important to you and talk with your counselor for more help. Do some research and list a few options. From there, there are only a few short steps until it is time to apply.