Exploration and Investigation
Applying to colleges is exciting, and the college search can be lots of fun (really!). Done well, it gives you the opportunity to learn a great deal about yourself, while exploring the many possibilities open to you.
While there are some aspects of the college search that you have little control over, there is so much that is in your hands. Some ways in which you can maximize both the learning process and outcomes of the college search:You are the one who will be going off to college – not your parents, your teachers, your neighbors or anyone else. Take ownership of this process, and engage in it. The best way to get started is to ask yourself some honest questions about what your values, talents, needs and goals are. Recently, a dean of admissions at a highly selective college remarked to us that students who take a thoughtful approach to the search, and who construct a college list that makes sense in terms of "match," are often seen as more compelling candidates. The kind of authenticity that is reflected here is one of the qualities that helps applicants stand out from among the pack, while offering immeasurable benefits to the individual student in the college search. Some things you might ask yourself:
- What values are most important to me?
- What kind of person do I want to become?
- What am I good at? In what areas would I like to improve?
- What are my academic interests? When I have time, what do I pursue on my own?
- What sort of learning environment is best for me? Do I like to speak up in class, or do I prefer anonymity in the classroom?
- How hard am I willing to work in college? How much effort am I able to put into fulfilling my goals? What sort of social environment makes me happy?
- What sort of environment brings out the best in me as a person?
- What do I wish I had done differently during high school?
Keep working at these questions (and others!), and come up with answers that make sense to you. This will help you form a picture of the college environment that might be best for you.
Find your voice and use it. It doesn't have to be loud; it just has to be yours! Visit colleges and ask questions of your tour guide, admission officers and students at the college. Take advantage of the more than 100 school visits that college officers make to HB every year. If possible, arrange to have interviews on campus or with local alumni. TALK to your parents and college counselors, and let us support you as you navigate this process.
You are in charge of researching colleges, and need to be the primary "data collector" in your individual search. There are numerous criteria you can use in evaluating a college, but first and foremost, they must be your criteria. Everyone has particular questions and issues of personal interest, but the following is a good general list of factors to consider as you engage in the college search:
Geographic location: You have more freedom now than you ever will have at any time in your life. Consider the opportunity of living in another part of the country – there are great colleges everywhere! Most colleges are "regional" in their population, so attending a college in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the South or on the West Coast will allow you to live in a part of the country that is quite different from Ohio. Also, since colleges are interested in maintaining geographic diversity, you may have an advantage at colleges further away from Ohio. You may find Maine or Missouri as different as Colorado or Georgia. You will probably return home fewer times from California than from Massachusetts, but the tuition may be lower in other parts of the U.S., which can offset the added travel costs.
City vs. suburb vs. country: City girl or country girl – or somewhere in between? How much do you make use of a city? Do you spend your free time walking in the woods? Do you want to try for both? Will the noise and excitement of a city be stimulating or wearing?
The following questions might help you determine if a college is the right "fit" for you:
- How big is it? Small (<2,500), medium (2,500 - 8,000), large (>8,000)? Coed? Religious or non-sectarian?
- What is the school's history, and how does that history affect its mission today?
- What does the college look like? What does it "feel" like? Can you see yourself in these surroundings for four years?
- What is the campus atmosphere? Intellectual? Collegiate? "Preppy"? Non-conformist?
- Anti-intellectual? Socially concerned? Experimental? Artistic?
- What are the strongest programs and departments?
- What are the graduation requirements in terms of number of courses and specific required courses?
- What degrees are offered?
- Does every department offer a major? Do they offer liberal arts, professional technical degree programs, or both? Do they offer programs such as engineering, architecture, nursing, or physical therapy?
- If it is a university, what colleges does it contain? Can a student change from one program to another?
- Are there special academic programs? Junior year abroad? Exchange programs? Research opportunities? Interim intensive courses?
- If the school offers a joint program, is there inter-campus transportation available so that you can take the courses you want on another campus?
- Is the college calendar run by semester? Trimester? Quarter? 4-1-4 (four courses in the fall, one during the month of January, four more in the spring)? When do vacations fall?
- What is the standard academic load? What are the maximum and minimum loads?
- Are honorary and professional societies sponsored? Phi Beta Kappa?
- What courses are open to freshmen? Are there freshman seminars? What courses/disciplines are required?
- When can you take a seminar? Is it easy to get into the courses you want?
- How large are classes? How many are in the introductory biology class? Introductory psychology?
- What does the college consider to be its strengths? What does the college consider to be its weaknesses?
- Is there cross-registration with other area colleges? (e.g. Five colleges in Western Massachusetts; the Claremont Colleges in California).
- What is the academic advising system like?
Resources and Services
- What are the library facilities like? Is the main library used for study or socializing? Are there special collections? Do academic departments maintain their own reference libraries?
- What are the types and availability of residence facilities? What percentage of students live in dormitories? Off-campus? Are first-year students housed together or in mixed-class dorms? Are all the dorms coed? By floor or room? How big are the dorms? What do they look like? Is housing guaranteed for freshmen? For all four years? Do you have to deposit by a certain date to be guaranteed housing?
- What are the dining facilities like? Dining plans? Accommodation for special diets, (eg. Kosher meals, vegetarian alternatives)? Is there a college nutritionist?
- What are the health facilities on campus? Medical or dental plans for students? How do current students rate the care they receive?
- Is there a career resource center? How active is it?
- Are the students satisfied with the way things are run? What are the "hot" campus issues?
- What kinds of entertainment are available on/off campus? Movies? Plays? Concerts? Exhibits? Lectures? Clubs? How often? At what cost?
- What does the college do to orient its new students? What sort of guidance is available to new students?
- How safe is the campus?
- What criteria are used for admission?
- Does the college require the SAT or ACT? If SAT Subject Tests are required, which ones?
- How significant are extracurricular activities, rigor of academic program, and essays?
- Does the college admit by major? How does the admissions competition differ among specific programs or majors?
- If a public university, what are the criteria for out-of-state students? Do they differ?
- Is the Admission process "need blind" or "need sensitive"?
- Does the college meet the total financial need of all accepted students?
- What is the standard grant/loan/work balance?
- Are merit scholarships available?
- Are student jobs available only to financial aid students or to anyone? What is the pay scale?
- Where does the student body come from? Is there racial, cultural and socio-economic diversity? Is there genuine institutional support for a diverse student body?
- What is the ratio of men to women?
- What percentage actually graduate in four years? Five years? Eventually?
- What percentage of seniors go on to graduate school? Medical school? Law school? MBA programs? How are graduates employed?
- What is the student-faculty ratio?
- Who will be teaching the courses you want to take (e.g. teaching assistants, professors)?
- Is there a published student evaluation of courses and professors?
- Are there advisors and professional counselors available? Are they used?
- Are the professors accessible? Do they post office hours?
- What is the percentage of women professors? Tenured women professors?
- Is the faculty racially and culturally diverse?
- What percentage of the student body is engaged in community service?
- Is the student body considered to be socially/environmentally/politically conscious? What organizations are the most active?
- How important are fraternities and sororities? What percentage of the student body joins? What is social life like for those who do not join?
- Are there adequate athletic facilities? Intramural sports? Intercollegiate teams? What percentage of students play intramural sports?
- What role do the arts play in campus life? What performing ensembles are offered? Are music lessons offered for credit? What sorts of activities are available outside the classroom? How are the facilities? Are studios/practice rooms/video labs/dark rooms, etc., open to everyone or just to students enrolled in specific courses?
While you don't have control over the final decision a college makes about your application, you do have a great deal of control over the thought and care that goes into your application. Giving yourself plenty of time to work on essays and short answers, adhering to deadlines, following instructions, making the best use of the resources available to you and managing the paperwork involved in your application are powerful acts of self-advocacy. Be a friend to yourself in this process, and give it the time and attention it deserves.