College is one of the most amazing experiences in a person's life. A variety of classes are available to broaden your academic horizon, amazing friendships are made, and most importantly, you begin the processes of discovery both about yourself and the world. However, the college admissions process is time consuming and difficult, and often takes a team greater than one. Having recently completed this process, I have come up with a few guidelines to help you along the way.
Be Proactive. Deciding where to go to college will be one of the biggest decisions of your life. Despite the help and influence of others, ultimately it will be your decision and your experience. With that said, the college process can only move forward if you are actively involved. Requesting recommendations, turning in applications on time, remaining organized and visiting the schools of your choice all depend on your commitment to your future.
Discuss & Include Others. As mentioned before, others will and should be included in your college process; after all, it is a lot of work! Full independence is just around the corner, but for now it is crucial to involve your family in this process, particularly your parents, or whoever is paying for your education. Opening up the lines of conversation about how your education will be paid for will determine which colleges you will be able to consider, whether or not you will need to apply for loans, scholarship or grants, and if you need to apply for a job near where you attend school. Next, engaging close friends, teachers you feel comfortable with, and other people in your life will only make the college process and your final decision easier due to their valuable input and support.
Think About Yourself. You will discover a lot about yourself once in college, but really thinking your personal preferences will most likely greatly influence your final choice. Are you accustomed to the over 300 days of sunshine we receive here in Santa Fe? In that case, think about how the rainy days of Seattle or Portland may affect your emotional health. Will it be hard to adjust from a small city to an urban mecca? As important as lifestyle choices are, your academic preferences should take priority. For example, do you despise biology and chemistry? If so, then going to a school with a phenomenal pre-med program probably isn't going to help you. These questions seem obvious, but I know many people, myself included, who have forgotten to think about themselves when making this life-changing decision.
Get Organized. Once you have decided on the schools you know you are going to apply to, setting up a calendar with due dates will be incredibly helpful. Essays, recommendations, financial aid forms, and so on can become confusing for one college alone, so if you are applying to more than one getting organized will be essential. For example, financial aid paperwork and letters of recommendation have to be done by parents and teachers, and as a result need to be given to them with plenty of notice. The more organized you are, the easier the entire process will be.
Visit! Visiting colleges should be fun, so including a friend or someone else you are close with will help you weigh the pros and cons when it comes to decision time. One of my childhood friends, who was from a different state, and I visited all of our potential colleges together. We had a great time and were able to evaluate each other's situations from a more objective standpoint. College tours are great because it is your first introduction to a school and you will meet other prospective students. On the flipside, many are boring and include useless historical facts about random buildings. In addition to a tour, take time to visit the school's main student hangouts, whether it's a student union building or outdoor hangout, and ask current students questions about their experiences so far. If you can, ask a student if you can see their dorm room (as opposed to a model room on a tour). If you happen to know someone who attends a school you are interested in, ask if you can shadow them; either way it will be a valuable experience when you make your final choice. Although not all people agree, I recommend only visiting the schools to which you have been accepted. It is easy to become attached to one particular school, especially if you visit before you've applied or been accepted. By only visiting schools you know you can actually attend, you may have a more positive attitude about a school you might not have considered before and your expectations overall will be clearer.
Make A Decision. Aside from visiting a school's campus, it is important to visit a school's website regularly and become familiar with the news, events and other activities offered, especially if it is high on your list. In the end you know what is best for you and which school will best serve your academic goals - do not let parental pressure, a long-term relationship, or where your closest high school friends are going, influence your decision. College opens so many new doors that it is simply not fair to let your decision be limited by your past.