After witnessing my sister Alex go through the college search and application process throughout the past couple of years, I’m now watching as my other sister, Elizabeth, is beginning her college visits. So far, the two have taken a completely different approach to visiting – Elizabeth has been remarkably calm about choosing where to visit and apply and is considering schools that vary widely in location and size. There have been a few things in particular that she has done throughout high school and throughout her visits that have helped her to maintain her calm approach to this whole process, and I think that ultimately being so calm is going to help her make the best decision. Here are a few pieces of advice on the college search from witnessing Elizabeth also go through this:
1) If you hate something, don’t do it: Don’t pad your resume with “filler” clubs that you only attend meetings for once a month, and don’t force yourself to do any extra-curriculars that you just don’t like. Even if your mom and older sisters played lacrosse, you can do something else! Play volleyball. Edit the newspaper. Run track. The important thing is that you find what you like to do. Don’t make yourself miserable for the sake of your resume.
2) Pursue your interests, no matter how diverse: You’re only in high school, you should be exploring your interests. Even if you love science to death, try to do more than just science fair projects in your four years before college. You’ll have plenty of time to specialize later in life.
3) Be unique: If you have a unique interest – like curling or Irish dancing - pursue it! It’s great to have experiences that make you stand out. Even if you don’t have a distinctive talent, pursue whatever you think is interesting. In Elizabeth’s case, she has a strange obsession with the Olympics. Even though I think it’s pretty strange that she can rattle off random facts about Olympians, it’s kind of cool that she has followed that interest by looking into volunteering at an Olympic Center.
4) If Mom/Dad is excited about a school, you’re allowed to not like it: A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth agreed to visit one of the schools that Mom has been pushing her to see for a while. Despite the school’s reputation, gorgeous campus, and how much Mom liked it, Elizabeth decided halfway through the info session that she couldn’t see herself there and wasn’t even going to apply. It’s important to apply to schools because you like the school itself, not because you like the idea of going there.
5) If you can, get a sense of what the students are like: Listen to the types of things that the tour guides point out and how they answer questions from the students and parents. Try to get a sense of what they’re like and what their interests are, and ask yourself whether you can see yourself potentially fitting in with them in college. If your personalities are similar and you share a lot of interests, that particular school might be one to pay careful attention to.
6) Walk around campus yourself. See the places that you want to see: Often times, walking through a really nice dorm or dining hall will leave more of a lasting impact on Elizabeth than a science lab or scenic lecture hall. Be sure to look at the places where you’ll potentially be spending a lot of time in the next four years.
7) Get a sense of the school’s location. If you feel lost in big cities, maybe downtown Manhattan isn’t a good choice for location. Walk around the surrounding area – if you fall in love with the location, that’s a huge factor to consider when making your final choice of schools.
8) Make the choice that feels right to you: There are many practical aspects that need to be considered in choosing a school, but it’s also important to go where you can envision yourself spending the next four years. Ask yourself which place you can see yourself moving to in a few months, or where you can see yourself calling home.