Often when you study for the ACT or SAT, you feel you must do well because, well, the schools are picking you and you need to do your best. Actually, the process is quite the opposite: you pick the school. Remember, you are spending the next four years there and you have the last word on where you go. When you take the reins of your college admission process, then you will choose wiser, feel better, and could even have some fun in the process.
What are the dimensions of this choice? There are many categories for choosing a school, foremost academics. What are you planning on focusing on? If it is liberal arts, then try looking for schools that have a strong program, for example Washington and Lee in Virginia, Reed in Oregon, or Swarthmore in Pennsylvania. If you are interested in nursing, why not check out the University of California in Los Angeles? Do you do better with large lecture type learning (Indiana University) or smaller classrooms (Hope College in Michigan)? Let’s be honest, though, most prospective freshmen do not know what they want to study, and you may not either. What then?
Choose another rubric to make your choice. For example, you may feel more comfortable at a school that is ethnically and racially diverse. Let’s face it, some schools are more diverse than others. According to the U.S. News and World Report, CUNY Baruch College (New York) is one of the most diverse colleges in the nation. Is this important to you? If so, then consider applying there or schools like Rutgers (New Jersey) or La Sierra College (California) which are also very diverse.
Up there with academics is college life. Some schools have no extra-curriculars, such as say, sports, others are completely focused on athletics to the extent of obsession. If you go to, say, The University of Michigan or The University of Southern California you will have to attend a football game at some point. If you are interested in being a journalist, check out the University of Missouri, which has an excellent program and a thriving student paper. Other schools, like Harvard University in Massachusetts are known for other extra-curricular pursuits, like their nationally recognized Harvard Lampoon humor magazine.
Greek life is another factor to consider. Do you want to join a fraternity or sorority? Some have very active chapters like the University of Arkansas, others like Princeton University in New Jersey, do not encourage them. Some schools have very little social life going on. A commuter school will have fewer parties than one where students dorm. This is something to keep in mind. Do you want parties or do you want to hit the books and then go home?
Location is particularly important to most students. Eighty percent of college students will not travel out of state to attend college, according to USA Today. It is normal to want to stay near family and friends. Do you like the suburbs or do you want to experience the city life? Where do you want to live in five years? Perhaps you want to find the peaceful country life at a rural institution like Grinnell College in Iowa. Now is the time to explore, for college is the best time to acclimate to a new place—trust me, it is much easier to do this during school than after.
Maybe you want a school with a religious focus. Perhaps you plan to become a member of the clergy after college or you are just interested in your college life matching your beliefs. I will not recommend specific colleges, because there are just too many, but just know that they are out there. Whatever your religious persuasion, there are colleges and universities that can fit your profile.
There are reasons not to pick a school, foremost rankings, like those published in the U.S. News and World Report. This is of little value to anyone, including the schools, and should be ignored. Instead, choose the school that represents your interests and your personality best. There are many dimensions to picking a good college. Be very persistent on this one. This is four years of your life, and hopefully many of your best memories. It is of no sense to choose based on something like the percent of alumni who donate (a real factor in the U.S. News ranking). But don’t worry too much, thirty percent of college students transfer (according to the U.S. News and World Report), so you always have a second or third chance to get it right.