The first place to start when thinking about college is looking inside yourself and trying to find a college that matches that. For starters, outline your educational interests and major choices. By knowing what you want to study, it is easy to hone in on the colleges that specialize in your area of interest. For example, if you are interested in becoming an engineer you should probably be looking into engineering specific schools such as MIT or Georgia tech. If you are looking into Political Science, Georgetown or Harvard would probably be much better choices. However, there are many students who go into college without the slightest idea of what they want to study. That’s ok too! In these cases, you just have to research colleges and make visits and see which one fits you best as a person. Consider other aspects of a college as well. I for one wanted a college that had decent athletics. I wanted to have a good football team to support and definitely a soccer team to join. Look at the organizations the school has to offer.
Make sure you can be involved in groups you are interested in. Think about the location and size of the school. I wanted to go to a large college after going to a relatively small high school; I liked the idea of seeing new faces every day and not knowing everyone personally. But for some people, this may be overwhelming and undesirable. Lastly, and probably most importantly (at least to many people) look at the cost of tuition and scholarships offered by the school. Sometimes the decision of where to go comes down to money.
The next step in your college choosing and applying process is doing your homework; research the colleges you are interested in. There are many good ways to start your research. The website collegeprowler.com helped me personally when as I went through the process of applying and picking a college. The thing I like most about college prowler is that it makes the process personal. When you first set up an account, it asks you a set of questions about your personality and then matches you with the colleges it thinks best fit you. It also asks you about your grades, SAT/ACT scores, and financial situation to see whether you have a high or low chance of getting in and whether to expect any type of scholarship. But take this advice with a grain of salt. This is not the be all, end all for your college search. Ultimately you know yourself the best and will know whether a college will be ideal for you or not. College prowler merely gives you a good place to start. I also like this site because it gives each college a letter grade report in many different categories: from dining to dorms to transportation, it gives you the inside scoop on each college. But like I said, since this is a secondary source it is important to do even more research. Once you narrow down your choices, go to each college’s website and get to know it more. Read about its major choices and any other program you may find important. Read about the dorm life and meal plans and if you are interested, its athletics. See what kind of scholarships the school offers. It cannot be stressed enough how helpful and important this money may be to your education. See if this college will be a good fit for you. This will help you continue to narrow down the list, until you have no more than 6-7 colleges.
And as you do this make sure you put each college in one of 3 major categories: your safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. The safety schools are colleges that you are SURE you will get into. These colleges vary from person to person, but remember that these are your back up schools so you have to be sure that you will get in. The next category is your target schools. These are the schools you think you might get into. Ideally, you will eventually choose one of these schools to go to. The last category of schools is the reach schools. These are the schools you may have a slight chance of getting into. Ideally you should apply to 3-6 colleges. 1-2 colleges you apply to should be your safety. 2-3 colleges should be your target. And 1-2 should be your reach. With this plan, you should be able to go to a college well suited for you!
Another way of seeing whether a college is one you will be interested in is going on campus visits. Sometimes students are really excited about applying and possibly going to a college, but the second they set foot on campus, they don’t feel the ‘chemistry’. They no longer feel like they belong there, perhaps due to the atmosphere or other factors that could not be described through words on a website but must be felt in person. Other people, like myself, visit a college with little intention of attending, but somehow feel like they would fit in well. When I first visited UGA, I went on a trip with school my senior year and honestly, I had little intention of going there; I wanted to go to a ‘bigger and better’ school. However, when I was on campus, I had a feeling of calmness and happiness that I didn’t expect. Although UGA was my back up school, I realized that I would not mind attending it. And ever since my first semester of college at UGA, I fell in love with the campus and all it has to offer.
By Yoki Ermias