Olivia Zug, one of our Admissions Counselor here at Johns Hopkins, looks back on her college search experience and offers some pieces of advice to current high school students on the hunt for the perfect match.
The most stressful thing I was told during my college search was, “There’s one perfect college out there for you, Olivia, you just have to find it!” What a responsibility to place on me in high school! The idea that my future happiness was determined by my which college I would choose to attend was overwhelming. There were around 4,000 colleges in the U.S., I loved several that I visited, and it was a real possibility that I could make the “wrong” choice.
Luckily, that piece of advice was flat-out wrong. There are plenty of colleges I would have thrived at, maybe even hundreds. For me, deciding which one to attend came down to the academic offerings, affordability, and a gut feeling.
There will NOT be just ONE college that’s a perfect match for you. However, it is important to find the right type of college for you. The criteria students most often consider are location, size, academic offerings, curriculum, support services, extracurricular student life, special programs, selectivity, and financial aid. Below, I highlight a few that I think are most important.
- Support services. The size of a school does not determine the university’s dedication to supporting students. This support includes resources such as academic support systems; mental and physical health systems; and student life support systems. Keep in mind that there are small, mid- sized, and big schools with all types of resources and support systems in place.
- Special programs. There are two sides to this. On one hand, if you are positive you want to go into occupational therapy, for instance, you might consider five-year OT programs. On the other hand, don’t limit yourself to thinking that a business degree is the only path to a business career.
- Gut feeling. If you get the chance to visit, picture yourself spending time there. Do you see yourself being friends with the students? If you have a sudden feeling of inexplicable excitement during your visit, it might be a great match for you. You should be excited about the place you’re going to live and learn for the next four years! If you’re unable to visit, as many students are, student blogs are a great resource.
But, most importantly, keep an open mind. The college search is a learning process; a time to learn about your options and also about yourself. In fact, once you’ve done some investigating, you may be surprised to learn what your preferences and college must-haves are compared to what you thought was important when you first began the process.
An actual useful piece of advice I received was “don’t worry about picking a favorite yet; colleges will make some decisions for you.” And that’s where the Admissions Office comes in. Highly selective colleges have more academically-sound students than they have seats in the class, so we use a holistic review process to evaluate “fit.” Specifically at JHU, we look at your potential contributions to the campus in three main areas:
- Academic character. How have you shown that you are the type of student to take advantage of an extremely open curriculum? Have you demonstrated you will take your academic involvement to the next level through research or internships? Will you build relationships with faculty mentors?
- Impact and initiative. Will you be an active member of our campus as soon as you arrive? What sort of impact will you have on the campus community outside of academics? How will you engage with the city of Baltimore?
- Personal contribution and Fit. Given what Johns Hopkins University offers its students, is this a place where you will find and seize opportunities that interest you? Put another way, given what you’re interested in, will you thrive at JHU in and out the classroom?
Affordability is a factor that can be largely out of your hands, while at the same time a priority in the college decision for many students. It’s possible for a university to be an academic “safety” and a financial “reach” for you, so make sure you do your research beforehand. One resource all schools will have is the net price calculator, which will give you an estimate. Going through this with your family now will help you plan and prepare for what to expect.
Ultimately, you will choose where to apply, but universities will decide where to admit you and how much financial aid to award you. It can indeed be an overwhelming process, but if you plan correctly, you will find yourself thriving at a university soon enough.
Enjoy the search!