Last week I published the article 5 Effective Ways to Build Your College List. The first list of colleges that you may be interested in attending are selected using general search criteria.
Perhaps you have day dreamed of a few schools, have some close friends that go to a few others, have a few that your relatives have attended. Maybe your teacher has recommended one or two schools based on some observations of your work in class and their knowledge of that school. Maybe you read about some colleges online, passed one on a road trip, saw a college sticker on the back of a car or read through a college ranking magazine.
The reasons are numerous and part of the initial fun.
That was the easy part. Now you must narrow this list down to the schools that you will visit and apply. This is arguably the most critical step in the college admissions process. One that deserves your best time and attention. This one step will largely determine where you will spend tens of thousands of dollars and over at least four years of your life.
Consider your friend network on Facebook. Your network is usually much larger than the close friends that you talk with on a regular basis. It is said that you are the average of your five closest friends. That means pick some good close friends right?
If your friends skip school and never really consider getting a job one day, then you need to consider getting some new friends.
Look at the characteristics of your friends and why they are important to you. They make you better, they make you feel good, they make you feel comfortable and secure while challenging you at the same time and they accept you for who you are.
I believe college selection is similar.
You start out with a long list of schools that you are interested in and then use certain criteria to determine which schools are the most right for you. I believe you also want to go to a college that will make you better, that will make you feel good, that will make you feel comfortable and secure while challenging you at the same time and accepting you for who you are.
By proper self evaluation and college evaluation you will have no problems narrowing your list.
The college decision is all about you, your life, your career, your future.
Treat it that way. This is serious stuff.
Below are five tips to narrowing your college search.
Tip #1 – Research the Colleges
In addition to capturing the key criteria for your list of colleges it is important to research the schools to gain a better understanding of what they are about.
You should visit the college web site, you should look them up online, you should get on their mailing list and have them send you an application packet.
Do enough research to have a greater awareness of what they are like, what types of students may attend, why this school may be a good fit for you.
Using the same set of key criteria you gathered for each school, compare them and match them against your self evaluation results.
For example, you may want to go to college in your home city so that you do not have to pay room & board. That is a noble idea that can save you or your parents money.
There are a lot of web sites such as College Board that allows you to search for colleges, evaluate many key criteria, and compare them to one another. This is a great idea. It is advisable to create a college comparison worksheet that you can use to compare schools to one another. Identify what features mean the most to you. This is an effective way to understand the schools, level set, and make some solid comparisons.
Tip #2 – Visit the Colleges
For a decision this big it makes sense to visit the college.
The visit to any college should be planned.
Be sure to schedule an official tour with the college so that you are given a proper walk around and spend time with staff trained at educating you on the benefits and features of the school.
It is important to also get some time to explore on your own outside of the tour to see how students interact on campus, in the library, in the buildings or student center.
Neil Pasricha of the Global Happiness Institute tells the story of a friend who uses a “bench test”. You visit the school, take a tour, BUT perhaps more important in understanding the culture and the vibe of the school is to sit down on a bench on campus and observe students. What do they look like, act like, talk like, treat each other like. What is the vibe? I personally think sitting down at a few places makes sense – outside on the main walk of campus, in a common student hall or student union where students retreat for food, fun, or relaxing during the college day, and perhaps a library or fitness center. Strike up a conversation with someone that appears approachable. Ask some easy and fair questions. What you will learn through this non-pressure observation may prove the difference.
Tip #3 – Interview students and faculty
Ask the tour guide how you may be able to talk to a current student or recent alumni about the college and their college experience. Use Linked In search capabilities and you can find many alums of the colleges you seek.
Have some key questions prepared and ask questions that are open ended and not just simple yes/no questions.
Some good questions are:
- “If you had to pick a college all over again and start over as a freshman, would you pick the same school? Why or Why not?”
- “Would you do anything different?”
- “How did your school prepare you for your career?”
- “How did your school and choice of major allow you to get a job and into a solid career track?
Tip #4 – Check out the Career Services Office
Be sure the college has a career services office and verify how active they are in attracting employers for career placement, internships, cooperatives.
Verify what majors are in demand with these employers. See if the college tracks career placement rates of their graduates. If so, this school scores high marks.
Even better, if the career services office has some reports they an give you that would be even better. It demonstrates that they are committed enough to student success after college that they track the details and share it.
Tip #5 – Determine the All In Cost
One of the most important criteria in choosing college is cost. This is as practical as it gets.
If you have to borrow to pay for college, then you should consider cost as a top criteria.
Private schools or out-of-state tuition at great schools can cost $200,000 over four years. This is a sizable amount of debt for anyone and is an amount bigger than many home mortgages.
There is no denying that your college degree is valuable and will allow you to make more money over your career.
But if you can make $1 million more over your lifetime with a $50,000 college education versus a $200,000 education, then it makes sense to consider cost.
You do not want you to be strapped with a sizable debt that will take a lifetime paying off if it can be avoided from the start – right here, right now.
Determine all costs including tuition, room & board, and other expenses and fees associated with attending the school. You will need to consider all fees for joining clubs, associations, and groups. Factor all money needed for weekends, gas, car payments, car insurance, dates, entertainment, and clothes.
One unknown that may reduce your overall cost of college may the financial aid based on merit rewarded for academic or athletics. You will not be aware of this aid BEFORE applying, but you can factor in your odds of receiving aid and level of aid based on school information.
Do the right analysis and be conservative estimating how much aid you might receive. You should look at total cost with no aid and then estimated cost with a certain level of aid.
My College List Experience
I started with twenty schools on my list, narrowed my list down to the six I applied to, and chose one of the two schools I visited.
It was important for to me pick a school with smaller class sizes and a smaller college community. I am from a small town in Nebraska with a high school of 600 students so a smaller college community felt more comfortable to me.
It became apparent that private schools had more freedom to create their own academic program offerings and offer special programs, majors, and courses.
It was important for a school to have strong academics. My desire was to attend a school that had track record of graduates getting good jobs, getting into professional school, and then making the world a better place.
Another thing that mattered was whether the school had professional and graduate programs. This demonstrates strong faculty and good academic and professional development opportunities.
One consideration was my interest in attending a Jesuit school that was faith based. I believed that students would be more focused on academics. I grew up Catholic so easily gravitated to Jesuit schools.
My list narrowing criteria became: Smaller school, Strong Academics, Private, Jesuit, Graduate Programs, Good Job Opportunities, Strong Alumni network.
My short list of schools was narrowed to two: Creighton University or Boston College
Creighton University in Omaha, NE gave me multiple leadership and academic scholarships. The school was in Nebraska, was smaller, had strong academics, great job opportunities for graduates, and a high performing alumni network who were giving large sums of money back to the school.
It was not too difficult a decision and the path through college and into the real world has been incredible.
When It’s Time To Widdle Down The List
You are starting your senior year of high school.
You are prepared to reduce your list of colleges down to the 6-10 colleges that you will send applications.
Reducing the list of colleges comes after spending hours and several weekends doing analysis and visiting colleges. You should have completed both self and college evaluation to arrive at this smaller list of schools.
I mean, these final schools should all be 100% agreeable with you. Meaning if any of these schools accepted you then you would be happy – and not disappointed.
There is no right number of colleges to apply to. Some people apply to only two to four schools. It may depend on your desire or commitment to these schools, your academic record, the strength of your resume, and the difficulty of admissions to these schools.
I would not advise that you apply to ten reach schools and no others. This is a risky proposition. Open more doors for yourself and give yourself and those schools the chance they deserve.
For time management and planning purposes, you can figure that it takes between four to eight hours for each application package. It takes time to properly complete the application questions and essays.
Also each application typically has fees that can be $25-$90. That is potentially eighty hours of detailed work and $250-900 of application fees.
Each application package, process, and timeline may be a bit different, so enlist the help from your parents or college application advisor (if you are using one) to verify the details and review your applications and essays for content and grammar.
The feedback they provide may prove valuable in shaping your essays and giving you the best chance to get accepted.
Last, be aware of admissions deadlines and be sure to follow directions provided by each college.
Now get those packages completed and shipped out. The next step is the waiting game for offers.
Once you have received multiple college admissions offers, then you need to pick the school. You can check out my article 8 Steps to Picking The Right College to assist you in making your final college selection.
Good luck and if you have any questions you can always reach out to me.