The Journey to College Begins with the Step of Self-Exploration
By April 1st each year, most seniors have received all of their acceptances, waitlists and rejections. Depending on how that balance shakes out will affect their satisfaction with the college admissions process. Too many rejections and they feel a failure, even if they applied only to schools as selective as the lottery without the test scores and grades to back them up. Too many waitlists and they can’t commit to the schools that did want them, even though getting off a waitlists has lower odds that the initial round so acceptances. Too many acceptances and they can’t figure out how to choose between the merits of each school without visiting.
By April 1st, however, it’s getting too late to do the research on how to make these decisions with the deposits due on May 1st. That’s why college counsellors guide Juniors to do more and better research on schools and on themselves before clicking submit on their applications. The journey to the best match starts with a journey of self-exploration.
The first step in the college search process is to discover more about the student’s preferences, learning style and personality. Career and lifestyle inventories or authentic personality assessments can provide a jumping off point for research. If a student is going to succeed best in a school with a lot of direct interaction with their instructors, look for a smaller liberal arts college or a program with small class sizes. Nomad Educational Services uses AchieveWorks and Do What You Are to help students discover more about themselves and how this might affect their happiness and success at different types of universities or other higher education options.
Essentially, the search process shouldn’t begin with a web search of schools that match the student’s current GPA and test score profile against particular majors. Any search correlating scores and schools should take place only after the student is certain what school size, instructional style and overall structure would work best for them. What features, activities and resources will be necessary or helpful to make the college experience successful?
If you start the search from just the numbers, you’ll easily be captivated by the marketing these schools put together. Or you may stop and list only those schools whose names your recognize. You won’t realize, starting from the numbers, that above all else, proximity to outdoor recreation is crucial to you, or a strong arts scene makes you happiest. You won’t remember that you’ll probably never even visit that super-cool, super-expensive weight training gym that the school highlights to prospects.
The numbers themselves are also deceptive. Not only do most students still change their major at some point during their college career, majors don’t necessarily align directly to specific career paths. An average admission range of 1210-1290 SAT in the 2017 cycle doesn’t mean future applicants will remain in that range, or that it is the primary factor the school uses in its decisions. Schools with athletic admits, legacy preferences or other special categories of admission will likely require higher scores that their stated average from non-special categories of applicant, as those categories skew the average range.
Making a long list of possible schools by doing the numbers game and other superficial research is step 2. Step 3 is to thoroughly research every school on that list, and to NOT apply to any school which does not meet your minimum criteria in order to be happy.
This research should include guide books, websites, video clips, video interviews, open applicant groups on social media, etc. It should also include visits if possible (you’ll get a good feel for campus in a visit, see other blog posts for more on visits).
After all this research, you’ll know best how to highlight your likely match in the application package, but you’ll also know that you’ll be happy at any school to which you apply. Then, when the offers roll in, you can merely choose the one which offered you the best package and no FOMO in imagining the more expensive school might make you happier just because it is costlier (One fun thing you might study in an Psych 101 class is the tendency of most people to always value the most expensive option higher, even when the two items are of equal quality in every other respect, you might as well learn that lesson without paying more for it).
And, for those fearing a whole pile of rejections rather than too many acceptances and waitlists, check out our post next week, where we talk about some options for students who didn’t make their college match.