Whether you’ve known where you want to attend college since you were a toddler or you’re just beginning to think about your college options, MCML has the scoop on some of the resources you’ll want to check out to help you get the info you need to make an informed decision.
Where to Begin
The prospect of life after high school (and away from home) can be daunting no matter what grade you’re in or where you are in the college search and application process! Where will I go? Where do I want to live? What do I want to study? How will I afford college? I will have to share a bathroom with how many people?! The list of questions goes on, but rest assured that you’ll have the answers you need when the time is right. If you’re not yet a junior or senior, you’ve definitely got some time to relax and think things through. Only consider your college future when you’re ready. After all, you’ve got classes to focus on and lots to occupy your time! However, if you and your parents have decided that college is right for you and you’re prepared to begin your search, it’s important to be aware of the steps and general process moving forward.
While you probably consider yourself an expert in researching (think note cards, footnotes, and quoting sources when writing papers), get ready for some serious college questioning! Many students begin their research just before or during their junior year of high school. This can include making lists of the subject matter, size, location, environment and culture, and other variables that define a college that are important and appealing to you. You’ll also want to consider where you and your family stand financially; will you plan on receiving financial aid? Will you try for a scholarship? Will you want or need to hold some type of job while you are enrolled in school? All of these factors play into finding a good collegiate fit. Perhaps you’ve already set foot on several college or university campuses with your parents or siblings, or maybe you’ve heard both the good and the bad from older friends or other acquaintances. To get down to it, here’s a good start of college research resources that offer lots of info:
The US News and World Report Education section: http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges
Many resources, including those above, are available in hard copy at your local library or bookstore, so feel free to check out or purchase one or two.
Once you have a list of your top schools, it’s time to get the ball rolling and tour the campuses. Most colleges and universities offer tours year round, so you can likely check them out over your summer or school break. However, it’s pretty neat to see a campus bustling with students. Many high schoolers begin the touring process in the fall semester of their junior year. This way, you’ll have a good idea of the school and campus far enough in advance that you can focus your efforts on a strong application package the following year, should you want to apply.
Tours typically offer an admissions representative (perhaps someone who will be looking at your application) presenting an informative session followed by a student guide leading a tour around school grounds. While guides offer all sorts of useful information from student life to course descriptions and other tidbits of college knowledge, a tour is your opportunity to ask all the questions that a book or website can’t answer for you. Consider bringing a list of topics you’d like to know more about with you on your tour. Whether you’re an athlete scoping out a potential team, interested in majoring in art history, or wondering about activities on and off campus in the surrounding area, ask away.
You may want to line up an admissions interview at your top picks. Although it might not be required, an interview with an admissions representative is a great opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation about the potential fit between you and the school. These usually take place while you’re on campus for a tour, although they can certainly be scheduled at another time prior to completing your application. Don’t forget to send a thank you note to the representative for taking the time to meet with you. College fairs and college nights are another way to gain valuable information. These can be held at local high schools or centers and include college representatives on hand to provide literature and answer questions. While they won’t offer you the on-campus experience, they are certainly a good option for information.
Once you’ve toured your top colleges or universities, you’ll likely be in the middle of your junior or the beginning of your senior year. It’s time to continue to dig in to testing and working on your applications. Some schools accept the common application (www.commonapp.org), while others have more specific application requirements. Between meeting with your high school’s guidance counselor, keeping your grades up, writing application essays, and deciding which admission option you want to pursue (early admission, regular decision, etc.), it will be one busy year. But be confident and put your best foot- or application- forward! If you’ve decided to apply early decision to a school, you’ll be committed to attending and will know if you’ve been accepted in the winter. If you applied regular decision, news will arrive in the spring. Good luck!
For more information including school profiles, application timelines, and other resources, be sure to check out the websites listed in the “Research” section above as well as the National Association for College Admission Counseling online, found at www.nacacnet.org.