Choosing what to do after high school is often the first big decision in a young person’s life. Not surprisingly, this can lead to some distress and anxiety. The best antidote is to make a plan and spread the work out over a period of time. Not having a plan IS a plan… and it is a bad plan! No one can predict the future, but experience tells us that students who work through a few basic steps are usually pretty satisfied with their decisions.
There are thousands of colleges and, for most students, there are many schools that can provide a happy, satisfying, productive experience. Students need to find a “good match” and then work to make it their perfect school.
Far too many students start the search process backwards… they ask what the school wants from them. Before looking at any schools, it is important to start out with some introspection. Determining what you are looking for will give you a yardstick by which to measure schools as you look at them.Make a list of the things that you are looking for in a school. As you consider many factors, you will find that some are essential to you, some fit in the “it would be nice” category, and some things just won’t matter to you.
- Location: Do I want to live at home? If not, how far away from home do I want to go?
- Size: Do I find a large school exciting – or frightening? Do I find a small school comfortable – or confining? Larger schools can usually provide a wider range of experiences. Smaller school can usually provide more personal support.
- Programs: Am I looking for a wide-ranging liberal arts experience, or am I more focused on a specific course of professional study? Does the school offer special programs that interest me… honors, special seminars, internships, study abroad? Can this school provide the academic experiences I’m looking for?
- Atmosphere: It is not just about academic studies… a great deal of the college experience is what happens outside the classroom. Some campuses are very social. Some emphasize religion and morality. Some campuses are more politically active than others and may be liberal or conservative. Some emphasize sports and other extracurricular involvement.
- Competitiveness: Students often ask “Can I get into [College X]?” This is the wrong question. The correct question is “Would I be successful in [College X]?” People respond differently to challenge. Do I want to start off as one of the smartest students in my class? Do I rise to a challenge and seek to be surrounded by students who find learning easier than I do? Do I do my best work when I start off near the middle of my class?
- Public or Private: Public schools tend to be larger and less expensive. Private schools tend to be smaller, with smaller class sizes and more personal support. The expense difference can become a complicated calculation, depending on individual family circumstances.
- Admissions: Though not the most important factor, at some point a student needs to be realistic about admission standards. Don’t give up on a school automatically because you don’t think you will be admitted… if the school meets all your other criteria but you think you won’t be admitted, discuss it with your counselor.
How to Begin Your Search
To begin your college search, start by creating a list of priorities. Ask important questions about yourself such as:
- Name three values that are most important to you.
- What is your favorite thing to do?
- What inspires you?
- What makes you happy?
- What are the first words that come to mind when asked to describe yourself?
- Are you a morning or night person?
- Do you like peace and quiet or hustle and bustle?
- What are you known for in your family?
- What teacher do you have an important relationship with and why?
- What has been your greatest challenge in high school?
- What are your weaknesses academically?
- What subjects have you excelled in?
- Do you prefer a large lecture class or a small discussion group?
- Is it important to you to have close relationships with your teachers?
- Why are you going to college?
- Is there a career you are intent on pursuing?
- If you took a year off before college, what would you do?
- What balance of study, activities and social life are you looking for?
- Is there an activity you insist on pursuing in college?
- Are you ready to live far from home?
- Do you like being around people like yourself or do you prefer a more diverse community?
TIPS: Think about the “why” of each of your answers. Actually write out your responses to the questions and be sure to distinguish between wants and needs.
Turn Your List of Priorities Into a List of Colleges
- Notice the trends in your responses to the questions above, and search for schools that match those priorities.
- There is no magic number of schools to apply to:
- 3 is often too few and doesn’t cover your bases.
- 12 is often too many making it difficult to know the schools well.
- Make sure you have a variety of schools in terms of cost and selectivity on your list.
- Can you picture yourself be happy at all of the schools on your list?
The Best Resources for Conducting Your College Search
After you have made your personal list of what you are looking for in a school, you can start researching schools. Online and printed materials are designed to help you determine how well a school matches your interests. Your counselor and the Counseling Center can support your efforts at this stage.
Conference with your Counselor
Plan to make an appointment with your counselor as early as possible. This will give you an opportunity to go over your transcript, learn about your post-high school options, and begin to narrow your choices.
The Counseling Center (CC)
The Counseling Center has printed materials and computer-based resources that can be useful in helping students with college selection, career choices, interest inventories, and scholarship searches. College catalogs, applications, video tours, and other useful guides can also be found in the CC. The CC is staffed by a coordinator who assists students and parents when using these services.
Each year over 125 colleges, universities, and technical colleges from throughout the U.S. send representatives to visit our school. Visits are scheduled in the Counseling Center so that interested students may attend. For a list of colleges and universities visiting Newman High School, stop by and see Susan Chamberlain. Some schools do not send representatives to our high school, but may hold meetings at a central location for interested students. These visits will also be posted in the CC.