Four Steps to a Stress Free College Search

One of the biggest challenges in the college search process is how to navigate through all the colleges to choose from, the degree programs and areas of study, without becoming overwhelmed, confused and frustrated. Constructing a narrowed list of potential colleges, investigating them thoroughly, identifying those that best meet your needs and choosing a final grouping which represents the best choices for you or your child is extremely important.

With proper attention, focus and realistic expectations, this is not a terribly difficult exercise. There are, though, a few rules to follow as you embark on this exciting quest.

First, do not play the “name game.”

What is Dartmouth, anyhow? Or, Stanford, Rice or Smith? For one, they are wonderful examples of education at its finest. For another, they are about as different as they can be with very diverse communities, philosophies and pedagogies.

So, if you think you know a place because you’ve heard of it, your friends go there or their basketball team played in the NCAA basketball tournament … well, you don’t. And don’t bother with rankings which purport to rate schools and colleges on some scale by manipulating suspect data and employing meaningless methodologies.

Second, cast your net widely.

Research all those unusual names and places, regardless of price, which you may never before have thought much about, and come away with a working file to go forward with.

Read the guides, spend time exploring the web sites, take the virtual tours, scan the school newspapers, email a teacher or professor in a field that you find interesting, join the chats, correspond with a student or alumnus and, eventually, arrange for an actual campus visit.

Third, when you go for a visit … do it all.

Take the formal tour. Arrange for an interview where you can ask questions, regardless of how reticent you may be. Listen to the answers. Remember the name of the person with whom you spoke; it’s a good idea to get his/her card because you may want to contact him/her later. Sending a simple thank you note when you return home would continue the connection. Then go out on your own and really look around campus. Visit a dorm, a lecture hall or classroom, the lounge, café or student center.

Fourth, remember what matters most.

Occasionally, we lose sight of exactly what college is really all about. That is academics! Sure, there are lots of other activities associated with attending educational institutions, but what matters most to admissions committees is success in the most rigorous curriculum for which you qualify and a showing on standardized testing commensurate with your ability. Nothing can change this reality.

There is no substitute for the highest achievement in the most demanding courses, accompanied by stellar performance on entrance exams.

That’s just the way it is, so don’t get too caught up in what you might have read about needing lots of community service or extracurricular activities. You now know what really matters most: academics!

Occasionally, we lose sight of exactly what college is really all about.