As the older sister of a rising high school senior, I've recently been given the chance to observe the college admissions process from a rather different perspective: that of the rookie college applicant. Even with an admissions officer in the family, my sister has struggled to navigate the complex world of American higher education reinforcing what most admissions officers already know: this is an incredibly stressful process. Often times it can feel like there are simply too many variables and too many unknowns to even know how to begin. That’s where this blog comes in; much as I did with her, I’m here to give you a starting point.
After stressing the importance of college fit for years, I realized that I had to take a step back. So much of the conversation about applying to colleges, especially at the highly selective level, is about vibe and personality, but that’s often the last step of deciding where to apply, not the first. To aid in this process, I've created this Google Sheet with instructions at the bottom on how to use it, but first let me explain what it is and why it’s not perfect.
The purpose of the document is to give you a starting point as well as a streamlined document to evaluate when you feel you have a thorough list. If you reach the end of your summer and find that every school on your list is in an urban setting except one, ask yourself what it is about that school that interests you and if that is worth giving up the urban environment you may be trending towards. Similarly, if you reach the fall and see that none of your schools require SAT Subject Tests, you’ve now saved yourself a Saturday morning. This all being said, you shouldn’t rely wholly on the doc.
The first big caveat to this is that I’ve included the things that I feel are important, which can and should vary from what is significant to you in your search. Some data points, such as graduation rate and undergraduate population, are essential when researching a school. Others, like percent international students, could be central in your search, secondary, or entirely unimportant to you.
Similarly, I’ve left out certain pieces that may matter more to some of you than others. If you’re a DACA or undocumented student, I would add a column checking if the institution gives financial aid to DACA and undocumented students (to save you the Google search, Tufts offers 100% full need-based financial aid to all students regardless of citizenship status). If you’re looking to be recruited, add a column with the NCAA division and athletic conference the school is part of. This is your college search, make sure to include the pieces that matter to you.
The second limitation is that this is only step one. Your college list will change as you further discover what you’re interested in and what schools would best fit you, keep the list alive while you decide where to apply. You will also likely find that many schools on your list will start to look very similar. If you know people who have attended those schools, ask them what makes their campus different. If you don’t have that resource, try to visit the campus or explore the admissions website, the personality of the campus should come through. The facts are important, but fit and vibe should play a deciding factor when making your final choice in where to apply and, eventually, where to enroll.
Hopefully this will give you a way to launch your college search, though of course let us know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions!
This Google Sheet is copyable but not editable. To make it yours, select File - Make a Copy and a copy will be created in your Google Drive account. For Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet programs, copy and paste the contents of the doc (control-a [to select all], control-c [to copy], open a new spreadsheet, control-v [to paste]) and get working filling in the contents of the page. To add additional columns, select one of the letters of the columns, right click, and select “Insert 1 left” or “Insert 1 right” to insert a column to the left/right. To delete a column, select the letter of the column you would like to delete, right click, and select “Delete column.” The schools whose information you are filling in don’t have to be your final list of schools, instead it can be a jumping off point to getting your list started. You can also share this with your school counselor, community-based counselor, or family and make it viewable but not editable.
On the second tab of the original Google spreadsheet are the definitions of the columns currently being used. I would recommend copying this page as well (same system as above, but instead of opening a new spreadsheet you would add a tab) so that you have your definitions at hand.