My younger sister (who is a rising junior in high school) is starting to think about what colleges to visit and has found the process so overwhelming that she has taken to throwing her Princeton Review Guide to Colleges down the stairs of our house and deciding to visit whatever school that the book opens to. There are a lot of great colleges out there, and coming up with a visit list can be intimidating. While my sisters’ method is definitely an entertaining way to choose what schools to visit, I have some tips that might help you create a more thorough and well thought out list.
· Talk to people! Whether you feel most comfortable with your parents, sibling or college counselor, these can all be great people to bounce ideas off of. They may have opinions regarding location and size and can even throw some unexpected schools into the mix. In addition, when something seems overwhelming, it often helps to talk through everything out loud.
· Be sure to look at a lot of different types of schools in terms of size and location. It is hard to know whether you want a smaller and more rural liberal arts college or a larger and more urban university until you set foot on campus. Coming from a small high school, I initially thought I would want to attend a very small college and did not realize until half way through my college trip that I wanted something a little bit bigger. It was only because I created a list with a ton of variety that I was able to discover what I truly wanted out of my college experience. You can even start your visits close to home- try visiting a smaller school and then a bigger school to try to get a feel for what kind of campus you want to be a part of. If that isn’t possible, there are certain parts of the country, like Boston for example, where you can see very different types of campuses.
· Do your research, the right way. While the comprehensive guidebooks are helpful for learning the basics about each school, take your research a step further and look at each school’s website. You will be able to learn a lot more about the vibe and culture of the school from their own website than from the two pages or so that is written in each guidebook. And on that note, do not let the rankings guide your list! The goal of this whole process is to find a college that matches both who you are now, and who you want to become in the next four years. There are a lot of schools out there that you have not yet heard of that might be a great fit.
· If you go on the college board website, it says that there are 3,855 colleges in the country. The Fiske Guide to Colleges in our office is over 750 pages long. This is a good time during your search process to make some distinctions. If there are non-negotiables, make sure that every school on your list has them! If you have your heart set on becoming an engineering psychology major or studying abroad in Rome, make sure that every school you visit has that opportunity. If you want to stay in a certain part of the country, focus on schools in that region.