Just the Right Fit
By Lauren, 16, California
Juniors, if you're not swamped with college spam by now, go to College Board (www.collegeboard.org) - that'll open the floodgates. I keep the physical mail I receive - brochures, visiting guides, etc. - in a folder somewhere in the depths of my closet, and the emailed spam in a folder on my computer. At a glance, you might not recognize any of the names, or even want to start looking for the right college. Here are some tips for navigating through the pile:
1. What do you already know? Have a sibling who went through the same process? Find out which colleges made it on their application list and a couple reasons why. These are the most likely ones to make it to your top list of colleges. The information is already there, and at some schools having a sibling attending the same school can qualify you for certain benefits.
2. Think about size. It might be just me, but after having moved from the country to the city and back again, there's a world of difference between the two. What atmosphere do you work best in? Do you need someone constantly looking over your shoulder in order to get work done, or do you breeze by without extra help? Look at the demographics and find your happy place. :)
3. Living and transportation. Is living at home your only option? Are dorms really cheaper than renting a room five minutes away? How many students have cars? Is hoofing it the most common way around? Familiarize yourself with the area that fits both your interests and your needs. Cities are great for the performing arts, but that school out in the boonies just might rock your socks. Be on the alert for train stations, public buses, and teleportation machines.
4. Here comes reputation. What is the school known for? Zoom in on the ones that mention your major in that list. Some majors are downright impossible to find, but I will say that the school offering cryptology stayed in my mind. If you're looking at the fine arts, your teachers will give you a heads-up on the best schools in the biz. For general majors such as writing, check the "about the author" sections in your favorite books, look up school websites, and decide on what career you're after - it could put a whole different spin on things. (I ended up deciding to major in broadcasting, whereas everyone assumed journalism was my future career.)
5. Visit the schools. This will probably occur during the summer, though ideally, you'll be able to attend during a regular school day. Sit in on a class, talk to an admissions officer, an alumni, and your future professors. Above all else, ask questions. What is the school's job placement rate? What do the dorms look like? How good is the cafeteria?
If you simply don't have the resources to fly across the country, never fear - if a school is truly interested in you, they will provide you with all of the above information. Simply ask how you can get in touch with a professor, alumni, or student in your major, and you're practically guaranteed to come out with someone's number. In addition, almost every school can be viewed using Google Map's satellite feature, an often overlooked way to check out the surrounding area, shops, and public transportation. Start your search!