Does it feel like everyone you know—and even people you don’t know—are trying to tell you where you should go to college? Here’s how to navigate this complex process and find a school that’s right for you.
Consult your college counselor or school advisor. They are trained to make suggestions about colleges, have college brochures available, know about upcoming college fairs and college representatives visiting your high school, and can advise you on financial aid sources.
Talk to people—and be open-minded. Just about everyone you meet will have something to say about a college or the college admission process. Ask your teachers, parents, relatives, employer, rabbis, and other adults: Where did you go to school? Why? What was your experience like? With 3,500+ colleges in North America plus many options overseas, a college you’ve never heard of may sound intriguing—if so, check it out.
Think about the type of school you’d like. Do you want to attend a large university with a bunch of smaller colleges within it? Do you prefer a liberal arts college? A conservatory? A “specialty” school in the arts, business, communications, or engineering? Research the different options and consider what’s best for you.
Visit campuses. If you can’t spend a half day at the school of your dreams—or you don’t know where to begin—pick any local campus and take a tour. Forget that the school is in your backyard, and don’t worry if you don’t want to go there. Rather, try to develop a sense of what appeals and doesn’t appeal to you. Notice the architecture: do you like older buildings or do you prefer a modern look? Think about size: how would you feel being in large lecture halls, or would you rather learn in smaller classes? Can you picture yourself living in this size residence hall? Why or why not?
Use websites and guidebooks—but with caution. A college’s website is going to tell you what the school wants you to know. College guidebooks are written to sell books, so some of the information may be sensationalized. Still, you’re getting a lot of good information. Read carefully and question everything!
Get your essential questions answered. If flying home easily is important to you, is there a quick way to get from the college to the airport? If you’re Jewishly involved, is there an active Hillel, KESHER, or Jewish Student Association, and are there Reform or egalitarian services on campus? Is the social and political scene in line with your beliefs?
Develop a list of criteria, prioritize it, then focus on FIT. What’s important to you? Besides location, size, architecture, and Jewish community, consider these variables: academics, diversity, cost/financial aid opportunities, competition for admission, social life, access to the beach/mountains/ urban night life, programming, athletics. Once you have your criteria, think about your “fit index” at a particular school. What are your “deal-breakers”? How close are you to your “perfect fit”? You may want to develop a chart or rating scale to help you decide.
Know the admission criteria—both to apply and to be admitted. Do you need three years of lab science? Do you have to take certain standardized tests—and how significant are the scores? It’s fine to apply to schools that are “reaches” based on your GPA and test scores; just be sure you’ve met the school’s basic requirements.
Go with your gut. Some colleges will just “feel right.” Think about what that feeling relates to, so that if you don’t get into your number one choice, you can go to another school with similar qualities. Some people have equated finding a college with finding a mate—they say, “when it’s right, it’s right” and “when you know, you know.” Trust your instincts—and happy hunting!
—Sherri Geller, associate director of College Counseling
at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts
and a member of the Board of Directors of the
National Association for College Admission Counseling