In no particular order, here are some useful tips for searching and selecting the right college or university.
These tips provide good advice from students, counselors and college admissions officers; but always remember, the final decision is yours. Good luck.
FIRST HAND VISITS. If possible, plan to visit campuses yourself to get a first hand account of the school’s culture and social life.
PERSONAL TIP. “Keep your options open and don’t plan your whole life around one college. It will make it a lot easier if you don’t get accepted. And if you don’t get accepted, your world isn’t over. There will be other colleges for you. Keep your head up, and keep trying.” — Hope Lobkowicz, Medomak Valley High School.
PERSONAL TIP. “It’s okay to go to a community college. By going to a community college, you can take a wide variety of classes that can help you find out what you are interested in. By going to a community college, you can still get a good education while taking fun – and less expensive – classes.” — Rebecca Rowland, West Valley College.
A COLLEGE CHOICE IS AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE. Your best friend is not necessarily going with you to the next phase of your education. Make your college choice individually. You will become a better person if you are brave enough to strike out on your own. Value and develop your own self-worth.
BE REALISTIC. Learn to deal with rejection and failure, especially if you are looking at competitive colleges. Not everyone can be in the top 10 percent of the class. Good coping skills will benefit you throughout your life.
HOW MANY SCHOOLS DO I APPLY TO? We recommend students apply to 5-7 schools (2 schools outside of their financial budget, 2-3 schools within their financial budget and 1-2 safety-net schools that are a financial bargain).
HOW MANY SCHOOLS DO I APPLY TO – AGAIN? It may also be helpful to divide your top choices into “reach” schools-those that might be a stretch financially or academically; midrange schools where you’re likely to get in but aren’t sure; and safety schools-the sure bets. A good rule of thumb is: Apply to three reach schools, three midrange choices and two safeties
TALK TO REAL STUDENTS. Current students are often the best source for the skinny on a particular school. Talk to college students who are home over the summer about their experience on campus. What do they like best? What do they like least? What advice do they have about applying to college or life on campus?
SUMMER CLASSES. Take classes at the school of your choice during the summer. Have your heart set on a particular school? It doesn’t hurt, and it may help, to try it out for the summer. Many colleges offer academic and athletic enrichment programs for high school students over the summer. Spending a summer, or even a few weeks, on campus is a great way to get to know a school. And admissions officers are more likely to believe that you are interested in their school.
VISIT COLLEGES DURING THE SUMMER. Take advantage of the slow summer season to schedule campus visits and set up individual meetings with college admissions officers. Remember that visits to most schools need to be scheduled weeks in advance. Also, the campus visit is the time for students, not parents, to show their interest.
FOLLOW UP AND STAND OUT. Follow up the interview with a “thank you” letter. Not only will such a letter remind the interviewer of your existence, but will also help you stand out from within a large pool of candidates. You may also look at this as a follow up interview in which you get to do all the talking!
BODY LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT. Make sure to have positive body language throughout the interview. Good eye contact, good posture, moderate body/arm movement and an air or enthusiasm are extremely important.
DON’T’ REVEAL EVERYTHING. Although you should be talking about yourself to a great extent, make sure you don’t overdo it! Take care not to launch into tirades about irrelevant or negative aspects of your life and personality. Be careful not to bare your soul and express negative feelings or ideas about others (unless specifically asked). Try to be as congenial and diplomatic as possible.
OK, SO YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. If an interview points out a mistake or a negative quality about you, try to show him/her a positive perspective of the same thing. In such a situation you should be challenging, but not rude or stubborn. If, despite all discussions, it seems that the interviewer has got you cornered, don’t hesitate to accept or own up to your mistakes. However, don’t miss the opportunity to express how you’ve learned from the mistake and are now a better, more capable student.
RELAX BUT CONCENTRATE. Your demeanor during the interview should be one of relaxed concentration. You should tune out any “noise” inside your head and concentrate on the moment at hand. This concentration on the present will also help you avoid distractions, nervousness, or self-doubt.
PREPARE, YET BE SPONTANEOUS. Act spontaneous, but in actuality be extremely well prepared for the interview. The interviewer should not get the impression that you are reading a previously-rehearsed script. This is done by memorizing the points you intend to mention, but not memorizing the actual words. Use professional writing services for help. For example, you may decide beforehand that when they ask you about the reason why you want to join their college, you will start out by mentioning the fact that the particular college has one of the most qualified faculties (or anything else you may want to point out). However, the words you choose to say that should be coming naturally and spontaneously. In short: rehearse the content, but not the words.
SELL YOURSELF. If the interviewer does not get around to asking you questions which you think are extremely relevant, go onto them yourself (diplomatically). For example, if you want to mention your exceptional GPA but are asked about extracurriculars, you may respond, “I feel that ECs are extremely important for a student and I have participated in my fair share of ECs (mention them here), but I still feel that academic performance is a critical factor behind success and that is where the bulk of my effort has always been concentrated, which is reflected in my GPA, which was in the top 1% of my school…”
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. Leave home with the address of the admission office or off-campus site, a contact phone number, and a good set of directions and map
BE FLEXIBLE. Give your interviewer a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, and follow his or her lead. Sometimes you will be asked first if you have any questions, other times the admission interviewer will take the initiative with questions. Remember: Try to be flexible!
SUMMARIZE HOW THINGS WENT. Make a mental (or written) list of what you learned about the college. Do this as soon as you finish the interview, so that the facts are fresh in your mind. This information will be helpful weeks or months later, when you wish to compare prospective schools.
AVOID POPULAR CONCEPTIONS. If there is a popular conception of the school (Princeton is isolated, Dartmouth has too many fraternities, Harvard has too little student-teacher contact), don’t ask about it. Your interviewer will have heard the same question ten billion times. Save this question for your tour guide or for other students you meet while on campus. You don’t want to seem off the wall by asking bizarre questions; but even more you don’t want to sound exactly like every other boring kid who was in there before you. Challenge yourself to come up with creative and interesting questions and ones that you are curious about the answer.