researching colleges

Juniors: Do you know which Star Trek character you are?

The students who do best in the college application process have figured out who they are and what they want. They have asked themselves the tough questions that help them emerge with a strong understanding of who they are. It’s hard work and it’s not always fun -- until today. Today, in this week's advice, we bring you a little comic relief with a questionnaire to find out which Star Trek character you are. And this little exercise might actually get you thinking about some of your distinctive traits and preferences.

BTW, we know we are a little obsessed with Star Trek. But as role models go the officers on the bridge are a little more noble than the South Park boys -- though we do love how Cartman, Kenny, et. al. speak their minds. And we welcome hearing about any "personality inventories" that you have found particularly helpful!

For more information about researching yourself in order to create a preliminary list of colleges, including lists of questions about your interests, activities, friends, family, activities, academics and more, see Chapter 8, "Creating an Initial List of Colleges" in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

Guess what, students? You're in Control!

John Carpenter is back this month with some thoughts about who is really in the driver's seat during the college application process. While it might feel like the college admission offices are steering, if you pay attention you'll see that students have the wheel much of the time. Read on and reevaluate what you've been feeling if things are feeling out of control.

One thing I hear constantly from high school kids over and over is that applying to college is stressful.  And psychologists tell us that stress comes from a feeling that we are not in control -- especially the big stuff.  Getting into college falls into the “big stuff” category. But students have more control in this whole process than they may realize. So, let’s analyze that.

Juniors: The First Step in Crafting a Preliminary List of Colleges

Your task in the next few months is to turn a four-digit universe—2,675 colleges— into a two-digit preliminary list of possibilities: the dozen or more schools you think you might like to attend. Step one in this process: Research yourself. What do you want? Before you start asking how schools are going to see you, think first about how you see yourself.

It is crucial that you set time aside to think deeply about this next phase of your life: what you want out of it, what you absolutely need to have, what you can and can't live without for four years, etc. If you  are so overloaded with activities and academics that you do not take the time for self-reflection in this process, that's a mistake. Because you will end up with choices you are not truly happy with and cannot own.

Start by examining your preferences, priorities, interests, and hopes. You can fnd personality tests and “interest inventories” in some reference guidebooks such as the Fiske Guide to Colleges, or online with a Web- based service such as Naviance. Some of you may seek out friends, family, and guidance counselors to help you. Here are some questions from us about your interests and activities to help you get started:

1. What is your favorite thing to do?

2. What inspires you?

3. Which activity have you pursued outside of school that has been most meaningful to you?

The College List: Go Your Own Way

Will Dix is back this month with some illustrative advice for students working on the list of colleges to which they'll apply. Find out how to move off "standing out" and toward "standing up" as you decide where you will spend the next four years in "I'm The One That I Want!"


If you’re a high school senior, your interior monologue is probably going something like this right about now:

Juniors, Your Summer Checklist

As you head off into the summer, here's one last checklist. If you get some of these things done, you will be off to a good start when you return in the fall. And as a little added incentive, we've included links to prior posts with advice on each subject. Have a great vacation and make sure that in addition to researching colleges and writing your essays this summer, you rest, relax and recharge, as well.

College Reality Check: Some Experts Weigh In On The Latest Tool for Families

There's no shortage of information when it comes to researching colleges -- guidebooks, email, college fairs, blogs, YouTube. In fact, there are so many new sites and tools -- College Score Card, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and their Shopping Sheet (this is a sample) -- that it can be hard to know what’s useful and what’s not. One of the newest tools on the table is College Reality Check, brought to you by a partnership between the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Gates Foundation. With 3600 colleges in its database, the tool aims to allow users to see how these institutions fare with regard to net price, graduation rates, debt rates and more.

We're big believers in information -- that is, good information. So we asked a group of college admission deans and high school college counselors to share their initial thoughts about the value of College Reality Check and how families can best employ the data this new tool provides. Read on to take advantage of their bird's eye view of this newest source of information:

What’s in a name? Is there a difference between a college and a university?: Advice for Juniors Researching Colleges

As you research colleges this summer to come up with an initial list of schools where you may apply, understanding how they characterize themselves may provide important information. Whether a school is a “college” or a “university” can make a difference.

Most— but not all— colleges and universities offer a liberal education. That doesn’t refer to politics! “Liberal” in this case goes back to the original meaning of the word: “unrestricted.” It’s an educational approach where a student is called on to examine problems and issues from multiple vantage points and learns how to think, communicate, question, and probe. The rationale behind a liberal education is that the world is changing rapidly and training for a specific discipline or job is ultimately less practical than learning how to be ready for a world unknown.

Undergraduate education in the United States is dominated by institutions that hold to the notion that a liberal education is the best way to prepare for a life of significance, meaning, and means. There are, however, also terrificc options that do not insist students be liberally educated.

Here are the def nitions of the four general categories of selective four- year higher education


Researching Colleges: Don't forget to Find out What Goes on in the Classroom

One of the mistakes we see students make in the college admissions process is failing to find out enough about the academic life of a school -- what actually goes on in the classrooms.  In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, What We Don't Talk About on the Admissions Tour, James M. Lang, associate professor of English, director of the college honors program at Assumption College and parent to a member of the class of 2017, states the case for finding out as much about the teaching and learning as the food service on a college campus.

Like any parent of a prospective student at a residential college, we are preparing for our child to live on her own for the first time. What shape will that new life take? I want to be able to envision my daughter in her new room, and gain a sense of what her peers will be like, and know that she will have access to food and facilities that will allow her to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Juniors: It's never too early to start learning about financial aid

When it comes to financial aid, it’s never too early to start learning about what is a very complex and important topic. All colleges are required by law to have a financial aid calculator (sometimes referred to as a net price calculator) available on their website.  Financial aid calculators can provide an early understanding of what you will be asked to pay at individual colleges and what your aid award might look like.

So as you research colleges now and through the summer, check out the financial aid calculator for each school on your list as you’re surfing the colleges’ websites. Use the calculator to help you figure out what the colleges offer, as well as to start thinking about what you will need to do to make your choices work financially. If possible, try out the calculators with your parents.

Your results— the cost to you and the aid you may receive— may differ fairly significantly from calculator to calculator and from college to college. Just to see how things compare, try out the calculators at a few less expensive colleges and some more expensive ones. It can often be at least as affordable to attend a more expensive college that offers a strong financial aid program. Find out now, so you can select the colleges that work best for you while factoring in price, without ruling out options that might initially seem unaffordable.

Cornell University President on Finding the Best Value College


In a recent piece on CNN, Cornell University President David Skorton offered some excellent and easy to follow advice for students about evaluating colleges -- advice that applies to both juniors who are starting their college search and seniors who are trying to decide where to attend. "A substantial part of college choice must belong to the student, " says Skorton in the article. "It must encompass facts, but also the 'feel' of the college and the fit with the student’s background, personality and interests." Read on here for more about the specifics to consider when deciding which colleges are the right ones for you. Special thanks to reader Carol MacCorkle for sending this to us.