Many of us know more about a new TV or car than we do about selecting a college. And, like selecting a TV, many consumers (students and their families) start with the college equivalent of Consumer Reports or Amazon reviews – The US News & World Report Rankings. I’ve written before about the shortcomings of these rankings and we recommend you create your own criteria and develop your own college rankings.
The first step to developing your college list is to determine what you value and what you can afford. What is most important to you and, for every student that can be different. In our practice, we’ve developed a process for determining and weighting a particular student’s criteria (we have over 80 which we review plus any student defined criteria), but if you are working on your own need to figure out your criteria list. Some typical criteria might include:
- Distance from home
- Program (like marching band, dance team, robotics, etc)
- Location (urban, college town, rural)
- Greek life
Next, you might want to weight the criteria, for example, Major might be a make or break choice, but size and Greek life might be “nice to haves”.
Then start your research. If participating in a marching band is important to you, search for “colleges with marching bands”. Read up, see how you feel about the band’s philosophy, the music they’ve played prior shows, hours they practice. Notice the size of the band and how often they practice. Sounds like a lot of work? Well it is! You’ll be spending the next 4 years there and a boatload of money on tuition, room and board. Isn’t it worth some time to make sure this is what you want?
Repeat for every criteria on the list. Then start to cross reference your schools to see which colleges meet most, if not all, of your criteria.
Lastly, rank your schools. Depending on the size of your list and the number of criterion you’ve defined this can be a simple or complex exercise. I’m not talking about listing your schools from 1 to n based on how much you want to go there – after all there is also the little matter of where you get admitted. But, rank your criteria making sure your list is also balanced for affordability – after all it doesn’t do you any good if you get in and then can’t pay for it – and admissions – it would be a waste of your time to do all this research and not get accepted to any. So make sure you have affordable, realistic options on your list, even if you have to compromise on a few of the criteria.
Lastly, consider you admissions options. Applying early almost always has benefits – not the least of is getting the stress and work over with and getting on with enjoying your senior year. But more importantly, admissions rates and “the goodies” – like scholarships, and honors programs are often greater for early action candidates. We are discussing Early Admissions, not advocating blindly racing off after Early Decision (the binding option). That is unless you understand all of the ramifications of Early Decision and are certain it is for you.
So what are you waiting for? Turn off that TV and start one of the best searches you can do for yourself.