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3 Tips to Find a Great College for You

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College ROCKS! Or it doesn’t.

Some students float off to their undergraduate experience with gumdrops and sugarplum fairies in their minds ~ This will be the greatest experience of my life! Expectations can run high.

But sometimes– just sometimes– students will be disappointed. They’ll find that the school isn’t as inclusive, or as accommodating, or as inspiring as they had hoped. It might be too challenging; perhaps its social culture doesn’t resonate. And the food is terrible! There are myriad ways colleges can under-deliver on their promises~ especially if students under-perform in their research.

There are more than 3,750 total colleges and universities in the United States. 2,250 of them are 4-year institutions. How can students find good matches? Below are a few best practices from a college admissions coach with 15 years’ experience.

  1. Prioritize. Limit yourself to 4 factors that are non-negotiable “must have” elements of the college experience. Then come up with your next 4 “important” factors. The remaining elements of the consideration need to be *eliminated* as non-issues. Focus only on the 4 “must haves” and 4 “important” elements, and don’t agonize over the remaining considerations. Good decisions are difficult with too many non-essential details crowding the picture.
  2. Visualize. Do the research you need to do so that you can clearly picture yourself living on that campus. Read student reviews and forums on daily life there; interview alumni; visit the campus; check out the school’s profile and take a tour on campustours.com; arrange for an overnight stay; go to a football game and an on-campus party; note the school’s sophomore year return rate and typical class size; etc.
  3. Use the CollegeBoard.org College Search tool. On the site homepage, open the small black drop-down menu in the upper-left corner and click on ‘College Search.’ The filter system tool is great!
  4. Be honest about your abilities and sensibilities. If you’re a B+ student in mid-level high school classes, maybe going to Cornell isn’t a great idea~ even if Dad has a connection who can get you in. Or everyone is pushing you to go to that big school with the incredible football program, but you’re more of a quiet artsy type and will feel lost in a sea of screaming fans. Know thyself!

The last piece of advice is to ditch the obsession with brand name. Many of my students have worked themselves ragged to gain admission to impressive schools~ only to be miserable there anyway. Repeat after me:

Look for match, trust in outcome.
Look for match, trust in outcome.

Great success lies ahead! And it starts with choosing the right college– for the right reasons.

This entry was posted in Brain Food, BrainStorm’s resource center for parents.
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