Although they are a year apart, juniors and seniors both spend this time of year looking at colleges.
For juniors, the pool of possibilities is swimming with countless choices as students struggle to decide what they want in a school. And, while the pool has narrowed for seniors, the college-picking process is by no means easier.
The primary factor in selecting colleges is academics.
“Students should really do some reflection on their interests and needs as well as strengths because they should look at schools with strong programs in areas [that the students] foresee as future careers [for themselves],” guidance counselor Rina Palchick said.
This should definitely be the first step in the college-picking process. True, colleges have a variety of majors, yet most have an exceptional department in at least one academic arena. Most students do not look at colleges with a specific major in mind, but we all have subjects we like, excel in and—of course—dislike.
“For choosing most of them, it’s really the academics. I want to study Russian and so I look a lot at the different [Russian] departments at each school,” senior Sharmila Das said.
Those with no idea of what to major in should look at liberal arts schools. These are smaller schools, mainly in the northeast, that require students to take a wide variety of subjects before declaring a major (which is usually after their second year). Popular liberal arts schools include: the "Seven Sisters" (seven predominantly women’s colleges) and the “Little Ivies” (small but prestigious New England colleges).
After academics, size and location are most important in choosing colleges. Sizes usually range from small (fewer than 5,000 students) to mid-size (5,000 to 15,000 students) to large (15,000 students and up).
The main attraction of small schools is that “you get more contact with the teacher,” as one junior remarked. And, they have a greater sense of community since you know most people at your school.
But, this closeness is also small schools’ greatest drawback.
“Smaller schools have a more specific type of person,” one senior said. It's a statement that definitely holds true. We all recognize schools like Vassar and Kenyon as “hipster” colleges, or schools like Bates and the University of Vermont as earthy (or "crunchy granola") schools, while larger universities can be more diverse.
Large schools, meanwhile, offer a wider variety of students, something that most students really love. Honestly, we “want to [be able to] choose people not to be friends with,” as junior Emma Dauster said.
Choosing a college is also all about location, and most students are picky.
“I want to go to a school that wasn’t in a city but not a school in the countryside either … one with its own campus feel,” said senior Phillip Nega.
Some need the options and excitement of a city (I refused to attend a school not near one), while others prefer the seclusion and nature feel of a more rural one.
For those who are overwhelmed with the process, there are endless search engines designed to taper hundreds of college options down to far fewer choices. Naviance, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s "family connection" site, is a website with its own college search/match engine, and which also shows a student’s likelihood of admission according to a student's GPA and PSAT/SAT scores. College Confidential is a similar resource, but also has a lot of information regarding admissions, as well as a ton of student reviews.
My favorite college resource, however, is College Prowler. Though it has the same information regarding school size, price and location, it also gives ratings on littler things we still take into consideration. It gives each school a “report card,” grading it on everything from athletics and food to the attractiveness of its guys/girls.
Personally, I think no college search is finished without plenty of visits. Even if you know the size or location type you want, visit the opposite just to be sure.
“We encourage students to visit a number of college environments so they get a flavor of different schools,” counselor Rina Palchick added.
But, more importantly, see how you feel on campus. I’ve walked onto some campuses feeling immediately at-ease and excited, while on others, I've felt out-of-place and awkward.
When you were going through the college-selection process, was there a campus that you visited that made you feel immediately at-ease? Did you go there? Were your instincts correct? Tell us about it in the comments!
Have a question about high school, teen life or the college admissions process? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.