March is here, there’s finally some sunshine, and college searches are getting ramped up. Juniors are taking standardized tests and families are planning Spring Break college tours.
This is a time when, unless you’re working with a dedicated professional, it’s easy to get carried away.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
If you’re regularly checking College Confidential, diligently scouring college guidebooks, scheduling campus tours, or booking travel, but haven’t done a thorough and thoughtful student assessment to identify the important aspects of your own personal “college fit”, you’re putting the cart before the horse.
The lure of college websites and the prospect of campus visits is undeniable. Don’t get me wrong, spring break is a great time to visit colleges, especially if your destination schools are in session at the time. BUT,
Looking at colleges without a “shopping list” leaves you at risk.
Colleges spend significant resources marketing themselves. Websites, guidebooks and the like are designed to pique your interest. While they genuinely want you to discover colleges where you’ll succeed, college admission officers are expert painting rosy pictures of their institutions. Developing a college list, or worse, scheduling spring break visits before you’ve clarified what you actually want and need in the college you attend can be a colossal waste of time and money, and you don’t have enough of either to waste.
It’s like shopping for a car when you don’t know if you need a cheap ride to get you to and from school and your job, or an AWD to get you, your friends, and your gear to the slopes and back safely. You may get a car alright, but it might not be the best choice.
Get Ahead: Identify What You Want & Need
Put in the time at the beginning of your college search journey to identify what you want and need in college to accomplish your goals. Doing so will help you:
1) Save time by directing your attention to suitable college options,
2) Avoid being unduly influenced by slick admissions brochures,
3) Focus your college research and visits,
4) Evaluate colleges on the factors that are most meaningful to you.
And, these are only the short-term benefits.
In the long run, your “shopping list” will also help you:
1) Develop significant questions and talking points for interaction with admissions officers,
2) Write meaningful personal statements, and
3) Effectively evaluate your final college choices.
Expectations, Goals, Needs & Preferences
What goes into a thoughtful student self-assessment?
Taking a written inventory of expectations (both you and your parents have them, though they might be unspoken) and goals, as well as your hopes, fears, and your academic, personal strengths and challenges is key. It’s critical to consider financial parameters as well.
Some important questions to ask yourself to develop your own personal “shopping list” include:
- Why are you going to college?
- What do you expect from yourself during college?.
- What do your parents expect from you during college?
- When you think about college, what comes to mind?
- What do you like/dislike about your high school experience?
- You aren’t the same person as you were when you were 12. How would you like to be
different at college graduation than you are now?
- What is your learning style?
- What is your social style?
- What experiences would you have liked to have before you graduate from college?
- What financial parameters/considerations do you have?
Your answers to these questions will point you in the right direction. Clearly identifying your needs and preferences is key to getting your college search started on a firm foundation.
Effective Approaches Share Common Elements
Although there is no one best way to do a student inventory, thoughtful self-assessments are:
- Holistic in scope. Include a wide range of factors. financial.
Being a student is only one aspect of who you are. Think about what you want the next four
years of your life to look like academically, personally, and socially.
- Open ended. Ask yourself complex questions requiring you to develop a nuanced responses. Questions that ask for only yes or no answers don’t yield much information.
- Reflective. Allow plenty of time to contemplate your responses. This is not an exercise for rapid-fire, spontaneous answers.
You don’t have to work with a professional to “take a look in the mirror”, but if you’re unsure about where to begin, what to focus on, or what your answers mean, consulting a professional will likely save you time and money.
College Counselors Can Help
College counselors are experienced in guiding students and families though the college search and application process. They know both the questions to ask and how to make best use of the results. Individual college counselors use different approaches. To get your college search on solid footing, check in with a college counselor, either at your school, or one who works independently.