Welcome to the College Ahead blog!
I'm Julia, a certified college counselor specializing in college planning, preparation, search and admissions. Welcome to my blog. For more than 12 years, I wrote a newspaper column titled College Corner. This blog continues that tradition. I’ve been an independent college counselor for more than 20 years. That means I’ve worked with dozens of students and I’ve seen the successful resolution of dozens of different challenges. Read more about my background here.
First and foremost, this blog is about you! If you want to see a topic addressed here, or if you have a question about college selection or application, feel free to email me. I’ll do my best to answer it, or if necessary, find someone who can.
My professional motto is “Navigating the college search and admissions process with confidence and optimism.” I want you to approach this transition enthusiastically and I’m here to help you do that.
- Destination Maturation
Julia Surtshin, The Journal of College Admission, Summer 2015
- Where to Start Your Summer Search for Colleges and Financial Aid
Brent Huntsburger, The Oregonian, June 2013
- Reassuring Words About Financial Aid
Higher Education Consultants Association Newsletter, January 2009.
- College Consultant Tries to Allay Jitters
(Interview) The Oregonian, November 2007.
- Liberal Arts & Professional Education
Under 25, Spring 2002.
- How to Write That College Essay
Under 25, Winter 1991.
Everyone talks about the importance of finding the right fit when selecting a college. But what exactly does “fit” mean? Some college counselors define it as colleges that offer your choice of major, that are academically suitable for you and that your family can afford. Others define it as colleges where you find your “tribe,” meaning that you see students who seem like you and where you feel comfortable. All of these factors are important.
The factors making up the right fit are unique to you
If you feel that you belong, if you meet friends, feel comfortable, and are not unduly burdened with finances, you’re much more apt to stay enrolled until you graduate. But, as the late night infomercials say, “wait, wait, there’s more…”
If you really want to get the most bang for your college buck, you should evaluate the colleges you’re considering with a longer-range lens. Colleges with the best fit for you are those at which you will not only be happy and succeed, but where you will thrive academically, socially, emotionally, and physically, so that you will be well-equipped to pursue your post-graduation goals.
How to go about finding the right fit when selecting a college
You’ve changed a lot since you were 12 and you probably want to do a lot more changing and growing by the time you’re 22 – the age at which many students graduate from college. Keep in mind that you’ll be in a new environment, complicating the task of finding the right fit.
So, before you begin researching specific schools, take some time to think about why you’re going to college; what experiences you hope to have during college; and what you hope to be like by the time you graduate. Your answers are the keys to defining what YOU mean by fit, and identifying colleges that will meet your individual needs.
“It’s not just about getting in. It’s about who you’ll be when you get out.”
Thank you for visiting the College Ahead website. If you are looking for support or coaching around the college search and application process, please contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1 503 968 2544
Yesterday’s thoughtful New York Times opinion piece, Overcoming Freshman Fear, by David Kirp, highlights a few of the challenges that some new college students experience during their first year. Feeling like an imposter at a highly selective college is much more common than you might think and anxiety of any sort certainly makes the first year transition more difficult.
Action can help moderate feelings, so what constructive habits can you practice to make your first year as successful and enjoyable as possible? Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of your first year.
- Live on campus and keep your dorm room door open. This is key to making friends, finding commonalities and developing your personal network.
- Get to know your professors. Visit instructors during their office hours. No, you’re not bothering them. Being available to students is the entire reason faculty hold office hours. Introduce yourself, ask a question, inquire about their research.
- Take advantage of the resources available to you. Visit the study skills, tutoring, and writing centers before you actually need them. Scope out the career development center before you’re desperate for a job or summer internship. Seek out reference librarians who can assist you in developing your research skills. And by all means, don’t forget about the counseling center. It’s not uncommon to find first year challenging.
- Ask for help. No one expects you to know all of the answers. If you’ve looked for your own answers and are still unclear or unsure, by all means ask. Waiting too long to ask for support is one of the most common reasons students flounder during their first year.
- Manage your time. You may have been able to pull off As by cramming for exams the night before or by writing single draft papers, but that kind of effort will leave you high and dry in college. Effective time management involves two things: 1) accurately estimating the amount of time required to finish a task and 2) planning and executing a schedule with that time built in.
- Get involved. Join a club, team, or other campus organization. Participating in an activity that connects you to campus and to others who share your interest is one of the surest ways to settle into college.
- Stretch. Stretch your comfort zone and challenge your assumptions. Open yourself to new people, new experiences, new thoughts, and new feelings. Don’t toss everything about the “old” you, just be open to a “bigger and improved” version.
- Take care of yourself. Work hard to establish a new routine that includes healthy food, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep. Managing stress is crucial, so make a habit of doing something you love each day – even if it is only for 15 minutes. When the machinery isn’t working well, everything else is more difficult.
- Know why you’re in college. Sure, you’re going to college to meet new people, have fun, and learn new things, but let’s get real. When it’s all said and done at college graduation, what do you want to have accomplished? If you think about that now, and keep it in mind, you’ll be well on your way to making it happen.
- Remember, the saying, “Moderation in all things”. It’s not exciting advice, but oh so true. Balancing academics with socializing and personal self-care is one of the keys to navigating the first year in college.
A new college guidebook, Follow Your Interests to Find the Right College, by Janet and Paul Marthers, offers students a new way to look for college options. This book groups colleges thematically: by college type and areas of study.
College Types Explained
Other than differences in size and cost, many students don’t understand the distinctions between small liberal arts colleges and large universities. This book effectively highlights the characteristics, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of private liberal arts colleges, public colleges, and flagship research universities, as well as the service academies, technical schools, single-sex institutions, historically black colleges and universities, hispanic-serving institutions, and native american colleges and universities. The Marthers have included a section on Canadian institutions and another focusing on faith, which includes Catholic colleges, Christian colleges, colleges with Jewish heritage, and Quaker colleges.
Search by Major or Area of Interest
Perhaps the biggest benefit of this guide is that students whose passions are well in place, can search for schools based on their interests. Sections include: Environmental Studies; Business; International Relations and Public Policy; Journalism, Communications, and Creative Writing; Music; Performing Arts; Art, Architecture, Design and Film; and Health Professions. Groupings contain both names of colleges and meaningful college profiles with narratives focusing on the college grouping.
This book is not a replacement for the well-known comprehensive standards, but is an interesting and useful addition, especially for students seeking options in one of the included niches. The Marthers have made a useful contribution to the college guidebook arena. Follow Your Interest to Find the Right College is available from Amazon and Wheatmark Publishing.