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Choosing a door during the college search
Early spring of junior year is an ideal time to start researching colleges and developing the target list of schools you plan to apply to. But before you begin conjuring a list of reaches, rights and safeties, stop for a moment to consider why
want to go to college, and what
hope to accomplish in the next four years.
While college is the natural next step for most, pause and reflect on what makes you tick and what really matters to you. College is a major investment, for you and your family. How do your intellectual interests align with potential college majors, and how does study in a particular major prepare you for your eventual career? This should inform the colleges you decide to apply to, and this intention should in turn shape the application that you submit.
For some, an undergraduate education is the necessary preparation to enter the workforce, whether you plan on being a software developer or a social media marketer. For others, an undergraduate degree is a required stepping stone to graduate education, whether you want to be a college professor, government economist or medical doctor. On the other hand, if you are planning to join your parents construction or catering business, how will a college degree help you? For some, training in a trade or an apprenticeship might be a better fit.
If your career aspirations do call for a college degree, the next step is to research colleges beginning with your academic area(s) of interest. For example, if you are committed to a career in engineering or computer science, colleges that focus on technology, such as Wentworth Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) or Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) might be a fit for you. If you plan to pursue a career in sales, marketing, finance, or other business roles, a liberal arts education which includes core curriculum requirements across a range of subjects may be for you.
A meeting of the minds
Some colleges are especially well-regarded in a specific academic area. For example, New York University (NYU) and University of Southern California (USC) are well-known for filmmaking, while the University of Chicago is highly regarded for economics. If you are interested in game design, you might instead consider Georgia Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, or Drexel University. George Washington may be a target college if youve always dreamed of working for a Washington D.C. non-profit, while Oregon State University may be the perfect school if you are excited about a career in marine biology. Research which universities have robust departments dedicated to your favorite subject.
Other criteria you may want to consider when narrowing your college list include school size, region of the country, and setting: rural, suburban, urban. Do you relish the idea of sitting in an auditorium with 400 freshmen for introductory chemistry, and then joining 40,000 raucous classmates at a Saturday football game? Or do you value interacting directly with a professor in a small class of 25 peers, and hiking in the woods with a few friends on the weekend? Are you eager to get out of your hometown to experience another part of the country, or do you want to be within a half-day drive of home?
Seek out a mutually beneficial relationship
Next, put yourself in the shoes of the admissions officials. They will be evaluating your high school transcript, GPA, and standardized test scores when considering whether you can succeed academically at their university. Use the intercepts in SCOIR or Naviance to better understand whether a target school is a reach, right, or a safety for you. For example, if your SAT or ACT score and GPA are below 25% for the colleges current freshman class average, the college is a reach for you. A college with an acceptance rate below 9% is also typically a reach for everyone. If you are at or above the 50% for both standardized test scores and GPA relative to a schools current freshman class, that may be a right for you. A safety is a school where your GPA and test scores are at or above 75% of the schools current class.
If the target university is a state school, such as University of Maryland, Ohio State or University of Michigan, be aware that the school will pull two-thirds of their incoming class from students within the state. College admissions officers also review your participation in extracurricular activities and service in evaluating how you might contribute to student life on campus. Accomplished athletes or performing artists should be in contact with the coach or conductor at target institutions, if they have not already been in contact with you.
The perils of popularity
Admissions departments strive to assemble a diverse class of students who hail from across the U.S. and around the world. Colleges almost always have more qualified applicants than they can admit, and this is particularly true for schools that are popular among your classmates. For example, if you and 50 of your classmates are applying to, for example, Tufts University, the school is likely to accept 5-10 students, even if 20 from your school are qualified to attend. Given this unfortunate reality, your probability of acceptance might be higher at a school with similar admissions standards in another region of the country.
With more than 4,000 universities in the U.S. to choose from, you can afford to be a little bit like Goldilocks, and find a college that is just right for you.
Need guidance tailoring your target school list or crafting your personal statement essay? Contact
College admissions spotlight: Creating a target list that is a perfect fitfor you
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