The College Search Process
The question I am asked most frequently is this: when and where do we start thinking about college? I speak to parents of 8th graders who are anxious about choosing their child’s high school. To parents of 9th and 10th graders worried about whether or not their student has access to enough Honors and AP classes. And to parents of juniors and seniors concerned that their student hasn’t been involved enough in extra-curricular activities.
All of these are issues that matter in the college search process, and they add up to this: the earlier you start thinking about college, the more you will feel that you have “covered” all of the bases, and the more likely you are to find a college that is a good place for you to continue your education.
It’s true that admission to highly selective colleges has become more difficult over the past generation. Students today apply to somewhere between 6 and 15 colleges (in our practice, we work primarily with California students, who often apply to a handful of UC campuses and a handful of Cal State campuses, so we are usually not concerned when we see lists with 15 or so colleges). Back in the day (read: when today’s students’ parents applied to college), we applied to 2, 3 or 4 colleges – sometimes just one! Parents tell me all the time, “I just signed up for UCLA.”
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy today. Students are willing to look at colleges further from home, instead of automatically attending their local state school, which means that applications at highly selective colleges have spiked across the board – with truly strong and competitive students from all over the country – and the world – applying.
However, while the media tends to focus on the small number of colleges with very low acceptance rates, the better way to look at colleges is to consider what colleges will be a good FIT or MATCH for you. At Magellan, we look at academic, social and emotional factors – does the school have the major that you think you might pursue? And another few in which you might be interested (because the majority of college students change their major at least once!)
Does the school have the learning environment that best fits the way you learn the most successfully? Are you looking for schools with big football or basketball programs that will be shown on TV? Are you looking for a large Greek system, or lots of student organizations with opportunities for you to expand on your leadership potential? Are you interested in small class sizes with lots of access to professors, or can you thrive academically in a lecture hall with 500 or more students? What about weather, or location? Do you want a small college town or a more urban environment with more cultural opportunities?
Students and parents who start with just the names they know sometimes find themselves with a list of colleges that ends up very reach-heavy. This is a recipe for disappointment in the spring, because de facto, “reach” schools are reach for everyone – there’s nothing you can do to guarantee yourself admission to most of them. The best way to start this search is early, and with an open mind. Be willing to look beyond the rankings (which don’t tell you how good the school is FOR YOU) and beyond the names you know. I posted this video with a few books that you might use as a starting point.
There are 2,200 four-year colleges in the United States. I can almost guarantee you that there’s one out there that’s right for you!
Evelyn Alexander founded Magellan College Counseling in 2011. Magellan has grown to a practice of four independent college counselors who help students explore, prepare for and apply to colleges, focusing on academic and social fit.
Evelyn holds a Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, a Master of Arts from George Washington University, and a Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA. She served as an admissions volunteer for Johns Hopkins for 15 years, interviewing students, representing Hopkins at college fairs and speaking about the admissions process at highly selective colleges.
Magellan’s clients attend Georgetown, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, MIT, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley and UCLA, among other highly selective universities.
Evelyn is a San Fernando Valley native and lives with her husband and two dogs in Topanga Canyon. She has also been a licensed pilot for almost 20 years.
|Tags: Admissions, Applying to college, College search|