When preparing for college, it’s easy to feel trapped into thinking you must find the one university that’s a perfect match. If you can realize that this is an unrealistic goal, then some of the pressure will quickly be relieved. Rather than searching through thousands of options for the perfect fit, consider a new goal: narrow your search down to a group of colleges that seem to compliment your character and personal hopes for your future. By shifting your perspective only slightly, you can quickly eliminate the majority of the schools surrounding you.
The average high school senior applies to six or fewer colleges. The application fees can quickly add up if you’re applying to too many, so do some research and narrow down your list. Keep in mind that most students (about 60%) go to college within 100 miles (an hour-and-a-half drive) from home and 90% within 500 miles (about an 8-hour drive). This means that most students go to school in their home state.
Here’s a rundown of the process of selecting and applying for colleges that might help. (Each step should bring more clarity of the colleges you may want to attend):
- Think about your lifestyle.
Who are you, what do you like to do? How far are YOU willing to travel for school? What’s motivating that distance? What can your family afford? What types of settings do you like – city, suburb, rural, mountain, beach? Do you want a Christian or non-Christian atmosphere? What type of people do you want to surround yourself with? What kind of training do you want to receive from a college that compliments your aspirations and character? Once you have a good picture about yourself, you can more easily pinpoint colleges that compliment your character.
- Think about what you want for your future.
What are some things you’re considering for a major or future career choice? (Be careful not to weigh too much on your future career, because it most likely will change – especially due to technology. There will be options available years from now that aren’t yet available, or what you want to do now may soon be obsolete). Also, consider a major that will compliment your career hopes so you’re more well-rounded and better prepared for the world rather than having focused training. Once you have an idea of your future plans, narrow down your choices by looking specifically at a college that can offer you a future that compliments your hopes and dreams.
- Familiarize yourself with research sources.
There are a variety of research tools available to help you discover a college that will fit your personality and desires. Your school counseling or guidance center can be very helpful with accessing and understanding these tools: computer programs, college guide books, magazine articles and internet sites.
Some statistics or information you may want to consider about each college is as follows: how many applications do they receive, how many students do they accept, how many students are enrolled, what are the average test scores or range of test scores they’re looking for? Compare some of these statistics to where you stand at your high school to see whether each school compliments your academic character.
Pay attention to their retention rate (the percentage of freshman who return for their sophomore year) and graduation rate. Look at student-to-faculty ration, average class size, types of facilities, clubs, organizations, internships and career support. This information gives you an idea of how satisfied students are, and how the campus lifestyle compares to your own.
- Visit colleges.
It’s helpful to see the actual campus, rather than just having a virtual tour online or on paper. The best time to schedule a visit is while school is in session. When you visit, talk to students and ask about their life and why they’re attending that college. Make sure you check out the areas that you’re interested in. Is their recreation center or library up to your standards? What about their student union, dorms and cafeteria? Where will you hang out the most, will you be content there? Also, check out the bathrooms – they’ll reveal a lot about the type of students who attend.
- Apply for the colleges that interest you.
Reach out to the college and pursue an application form. If you have further questions or want to ask for more information, contact the college so you can receive the right answers to narrow down your decision. Add application due dates in your calendar and set schedule dates ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling last minute.
It may be a scary thought, but the average application is reviewed for about three minutes. Make sure you’re reporting what’s expected. Here’s some things to ensure are in your application:
- Academic Ranking from grades 9 through 11. Your GPA (grade point average), courses taken and rank-in-class. Senior year records will be reviewed at a later date, so don’t slack off. Test scores on standardized tests (SAT and/or ACT) based on which test the college requires. These are not the only criteria reviewed, but they do help admissions know more about you as an academic prospect.
- After reviewing your academic success, college admissions want to view your extracurricular activities, recommendations, personal interview (if required), connections with alumni, athletics and anything else that makes you unique, interesting and of value to their college.
- Make yourself stand out on your essay. Reveal your personality. Provide information that wasn’t included in the application form. When writing your essay, make one draft, then revise it. Set it aside for a week, then come back to it for a rewrite. Sometimes rewriting means starting from scratch, sometimes it means making minor adjustments. Keep doing this until you like what you read, and you feel like it’s a good representation of you. Then have someone else look it over. What are their thoughts about what you’re presenting? If they like your presentation, then ask them to edit. Have another person edit your essay before sending it.
Once you’ve gone through this entire process, it’s time to wait for the results. If you become nervous during the waiting game, pray that God will give you peace and patience. Although it seems like the competition is high, in reality most colleges accept most students who apply. In fact, in a nationwide survey, 70% of college freshman stated that they were attending the college that was their first choice.
The financial aid process typically goes along with the admissions process. You’ll hear about grants, scholarships, loans, payment options, etc. following your acceptance. Your high school counselor can help you with the standard financial aid forms.
Once you’ve received your acceptance letters, follow-up with each college. Select a college that makes sense to you. Your parents, siblings or friends aren’t going to this college. You’re the person who’ll be there for the next few years, so be sure that you’re willing to commit before you say “yes.” After you’ve followed up, enjoy the rest of your senior year and start planning the next chapter of your life. After you move in, take a moment to soak in how far you’ve come and look toward your exciting future.