How (and Why) to Research College Requirements

December 29, 2016
Ingrid Murati

Learn the importance of researching college requirements.

It’s important to know college requirements. But equally important to know your own.

In high school, everything is pretty standard—same classes, same extracurriculars, same sports—and where you attend is less of a choice and more of a geographical default.

Going into college, however, is completely different. Since you are paying for your education and specializing in a certain area, you get the privilege of “shopping around” and seeing what schools best fit your needs.

When applying to universities, here are some important points to keep in mind before saying “yes”:

Not all colleges are the same  

You might be tempted to think that because most of the high schools you were exposed to offered the same things, then most colleges do also. Keep in mind that universities are catering to a huge population (the majority of which is high schoolers) that include adults going back to school, adults going for the first time, foreign exchange students, people seeking a second degree, etc. So colleges offer more programs depending on the kinds of students they are trying to attract.

Not all universities offer the same majors/degrees. You might have your heart set on one school, only to find that they have subpar or no programs in your area of interest. It’s important to go to the school website of every school you’re interested in and see what they have that best fits your interests.

Don’t rely on aesthetic

Keep in mind that no matter how beautiful or bland a campus is, it is the quality of the education that matters, so look beyond the aesthetics. You can often see many pictures of campuses on their social media sites, or on their home webpage.

Many schools spends millions of dollars to create a beautiful campus in order to attract incoming Freshman. While there is nothing wrong with loving the atmosphere of the place you will soon call home, make sure to not be dazzled by the “brand new building we just finished last month.” If you can, ask to see some of the classrooms where you will spend the majority of your time the first two years. They tend to all be in the same few buildings, and it can be a bummer if those classrooms are bleak.

Different schools, different standards

Hopefully by now, you have received your ACT/SAT scores, and you know where you stand as far as what colleges you can realistically apply to. Remember that universities have different requirements depending on the caliber of the college. Some colleges may require recommendation letters, 1-2 page essays about your future goals or why you want to attend this school, a higher GPA minimum requirement, or a down payment, to name a few. You want to make sure you have looked up (and met) the ACT/SAT/GPA requirements of the school before you spend money applying to it.

You also will want to make a list of when schools’ application deadlines are. If you find out last-minute that your school of choice has a deadline in two weeks and you need three recommendation letters, you’re going to have a hard time getting everything together. You might sacrifice some quality in order to get things finished. To avoid this, do a quick google search of the colleges you’re interested in, and keep the information organized in an excel sheet or a special notebook. It will save you a lot of headache later on.

Research your prospective major

Finally, if you have your heart set on a school and have decided on a major (kudos to you!), you definitely want to look up the course catalog for your major and check out all of the required courses to complete for it. It can be daunting to see all of those classes at once, but you don’t want to waste time (and money) going down a track that you end up not being interested in later on. 

For example, if you love marine biology, but really don’t have an interest in general science classes, the dozens of biology and chemistry classes you have to take may not be for you. Different colleges have different course requirements for each major, even if the major has the same name at another college. It is important to know what classes you’ll be getting into, because you want to make sure you have an interest in what you’ll be studying for the next few years.

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Ingrid Murati Ingrid is a business major on the pre-optometry track at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. She is also a Kaplan Student Brand Ambassador and an ROTC cadet.

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