The fateful time has come: the time for college applications. Now, maybe you have one dream school that you just know you’re absolutely going to attend, so applications aren’t such a vast undertaking for you … but if you’re like most people you’re looking at a variety of places, with a variety of programs, which means the application process can be a daunting endeavor. But wait—which schools have early decision? Which one offered that theater program? Which ones have great engineering departments? What city was that design school in? Which schools are you even applying to? The fact is that college visits, programs, and professors tend to blend together after a while (to say nothing of notoriously difficult-to-navigate college websites). It may seem next to impossible to keep them all straight, especially if you’re looking at applying to several schools. Well, allow me to let you in on a secret: it is impossible. You can’t possibly retain that much information in your head. And so I offer you my humble organizational tool: the college spreadsheet. A good college spreadsheet is truly invaluable. As I write this, I am looking at (too many) schools in the northeast—UPenn yesterday, Princeton this morning, Columbia and NYU tomorrow—eleven in total. Left to my own memory, or even my handwritten notes (though these are important), I would be flying home in a week with a skull full of soup, no closer to narrowing down my list of options than I was upon departure. I would have a longer list of applications to complete, but still no idea of where I want to go.Fortunately, I came prepared. Keeping a spreadsheet may not seem like fun, but let me assure you that it will be worth your while. Here are a few reasons why.Your spreadsheet can be very personal. The main idea is to have all the relevant information about your schools of interest together in one place. You get to decide what qualifies as relevant. My spreadsheet has the names of schools down the left-hand side, and categories across the top: undergrad size, price, deadlines, programs / majors I’m interested in (I have columns for “theater,” “art,” “literature & creative writing,” and also “additional” for anything else I stumble upon at a given school), community, campus life, etc. The programs / majors columns will be your bread and butter, but as you look into different schools, you may decide to add columns for things you didn’t realize you cared about—for example, I added a “campus” column when I realized that the school’s architecture and location were very important to me.How about an athletics column? Or a column for clubs? Your spreadsheet is the place to record all the tidbits you’ll want to remember when you’re making a decision about where to go.
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