It’s hard to imagine yourself in a completely different place. It’s even harder to imagine whether or not you would be happy there. So when it comes to college applications, some people say to heck with it and apply to 25 schools and think they’ll make the big decisions later.
This isn’t a great plan. If you overwhelm yourself with too many applications, you won’t do a great a job on any of them — you’ll be spreading yourself too thin. It’s fine to have some uncertainty when you apply, and it’s great to apply to a nice mix of programs (to keep your options open!), but it’s also a good idea to weed out some of the options before you get to work. Here are some questions to help you cut some of those schools off your list:
1. Does the school have the right academic program for me?
Maybe the dining hall makes the best bacon mac ‘n’ cheese you’ve ever tasted, but if your anticipated neuroscience major is totally absent from the list of department programs, time to learn how to make your own bacon mac ‘n’ cheese.
2. Does the school offer the extracurriculars I want?
It’s absolutely crucial to start figuring out career plans in college, but it may also be the only time in your life when you’ll have time to sing in the chorus of a production of Phantom of the Opera. So if you’re passionate about musical theatre but plan on studying psychology, yet you can’t find any trace of an undergraduate theatre scene, you may want to remove this school from your list.
3. Do I like the student body?
This is a question you may only be able to answer after a college visit or after talking to current students. But these are the folks you’re going to be spending the next four years with. Are they your kind of people? Do you feel like you fit in? Not just from a social standpoint, but from a professional networking standpoint? If you feel totally separate from the student body, that’s not going to be fun for your social life or beneficial to your career.
4. How close to (or far from) my parents do I want to be?
OK, so this time it’s your dad who makes the best bacon mac ‘n’ cheese ever. We get your obsession with this wonderful food. But do the schools within dad-mac-’n'-cheese distance fit the rest of your qualifications? Alternatively, even if you’re ready to swim across the ocean to get away from your parents, don’t nix a closer school that may otherwise be perfect for you. You can always use the excuse that you have to study for exams to keep your grades up. Your parents will be proud of you for being so studious.
Now, these things may not apply to you, but trust me, everyone has non-negotiables — the things they’d be miserable without. Maybe it’s intramural sports. Maybe it’s Greek life. Maybe it’s small classes. The first step to finalizing that list of schools is figuring out what your non-negotiables are. Throw those down on paper and refer back to that list — that’ll keep you focused and keep that list of target schools in line.
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