High school seniors, it’s showtime. This is the moment that you’ve spent the last few years grinding away for, a.k.a. college application season. But with almost 4,000 postsecondary institutions in the US alone, which do you apply to? Here are some questions to narrow your search:
First off, how many colleges can you apply to? Each application (and test score) cost money. There are fee waivers for low-income students but also ask yourself, how many do you need to apply to? Remember, it only takes one college to accept you! Once you’ve got a number in mind, then we know how narrow a scope to aim for.
The second money-related question that you need to ask: Will you be applying to financial aid, and if so, which colleges have good financial aid programs? College isn’t cheap and until someone decides to erase student loan debt, we have to keep in mind how we’re going to pay. It’s better if the college’s financial aid program is willing to pay for you.
Now, it’s time for self reflection. It’s tough, but you’ve got to take a hard look at yourself and ask, which colleges do you academically fit? Look at your GPA, class rank, extracurriculars, test scores, and high school standing in the nation. You want to make sure you’re putting most of your applications into “safety” and “target” schools, the ones that you have a high chance of getting into or you’re a strong, competitive applicant. If you have the leeway, go ahead and send a few “reach” applications—you never know!
A word of warning: There are a lot of competitive applicants, and it’s not surprising many are rejected from what they thought were safety schools!
Whew! Alright, with the tough questions out of the way, let’s talk about things to look forward to, such as what type of environment do you want? If you’re at a loss, take a look at your high school. Do you like the environment there or are you looking for something completely different?
Having a point of reference can help you determine what type of college you want. Are you looking for a large, research university? Do you want a bustling social life? Maybe you love small classrooms and close relationships with professors? Or you’re looking to get ahead in an urban, career oriented space?
Lastly, what are you interested in studying? For some, this is a narrow scope. For example, there are less colleges for specific technical majors or the arts. Other colleges are well known for certain departments, whether in STEM or humanities. But if you’re undeclared, don’t sweat it! In fact, this is one of the things you have a lot of leeway with as a college applicant.
As High School Musical reminds us, we all have to “go our own way” and that means your college journey is going to be your own and unique. Keep in mind, there are always alternative paths, such as taking a gap year, transferring from community college, or pre-professional programs. Remember, this is just about finding the place that fits you.