|laise Pascal wrote,
"The heart can know things reason will never understand." That wisdom applies
to choosing a college.
"If the place you choose feels right to you, you increase your chances for doing good work," says Jim Wolfston, president of CollegeNET, a Web-based college admissions company in Portland, Ore. "For some, that will mean a small school; for others it will mean a larger environment."
With more than 3,000 colleges to pick from, how do you narrow your choices to a manageable number?
Successful searches begin with knowing who you are. Knowing yourself and what you do well will help you discover where you'll do well. Examine your academic and professional goals, financial resources, scholastic record, and special interests. U.S. News & World Report's College Personality Quiz can help you find a college where you'll thrive.
For more information
or opinions of alumni
30 years ago.
|Colleges have personalities, too
To find the best match, start with what you want in a college. From location, size, curriculum, and cost to your chances for admission and the school's social scene, piece information together from college brochures to make an initial list of colleges of interest. At this point, don't dismiss a college because it's more than you can afford. Sort schools by a number of criteria using U.S. News & World Report's College Search.
While college Web sites and glossy brochures paint a rosy picture, don't ignore those sources. By piecing together what you can, an accurate campus picture will begin to emerge. What you can't discern from those sources is the feeling of a college environment.
|Get a clear picture
Enhancing a campus visit by talking with students and faculty and asking candid questions of tour guides is the only way to get a feel for the school. During the visit you will be bombarded with new experiences. So come up with a list of questions the source materials don't answer before setting foot on campus to guide your discussions with students, faculty, and admissions officials. For more help, check out U.S. News & World Report's detailed list of questions.
While campus tour guides offer plenty of facts, ask them about personal experiences. For example, if a guide says the average number of students per class is 15, ask how many students are in his or her classes. These personal accounts will liven up the statistics.
a college because
it's more than
you can afford.
for the details,
not the big picture
that you can get
from the college
|Nothing comes close to being there
Every school you visit will tout ways it will make your college years the best of your lifefrom meeting multicultural friends and inspirational professors to enjoying a friendly campus and first-rate education, bubbly tour guides will promise it all. How do you get a balanced perspective of the college scene?
Close examination during a college visit can lead you to pick a school where your image of the ideal experience can become a reality. You're looking for the details, not the big picture that you can get from the college catalogs. Pinpoint what you want to know, then go off the beaten path to seek it out.
Start each visit off right by calling the admissions office at least two weeks in advance to find out what the campus offers. Campus tours vary, so ask if it's possible for you to sit in on classes, meet professors, shadow a student, eat in the dining hall, spend a night, or see facilities of interest to you.
Plan more than two weeks ahead to take full advantage of unique opportunities to visit a campus, such as the Open Campus Experience at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., which gives you the chance to live like one of the 2,500 Smith students for two days every April. Options usually are different at larger schools, such as at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which gives prospective students a glimpse of the life of its 40,000 students through campus tours.
There's no one way to visit a campus. But to really take the pulse of the place, visit on a weekday during fall or spring semestersbut not during finals or vacation weeksto see regular routines. If you can't go while classes are in session, don't let that stop youany visit is better than not visiting at all.
Keep these guidelines in mind when preparing for each visit:
And once on campus:
And to disagree with yourself. On the basis of experiences, you should be willing to alterperhaps significantlyyour previous ranking of what was important. Many students start the search process believing there is one ideal place for them but often find several colleges where they could thrive.
|The next best thing
For many families, getting there is not half the fun. If cost or time constraints prevent your family from making the trip to campus, consider replacing the bricks and mortar of traditional campus visits with the clicks and mortar of a virtual tour.
Duke (Durham, N.C.) University's interactive virtual tour with 360-degree panoramic campus scenes and the University of Wisconsin's slide show of its campus in action offer a glimpse of college life from the comforts of home. "But keep in mind that, just as travel brochures won't let you feel the warm sand of Waikiki, photos found on typical Web pages can't compete with a real stroll through the library, dining commons, or 'Stu U,' " warns "College Admissions." "More telling, however, are student publications that can usually also be accessed from the Web."
Graduates of state
only slightly less
through their careers
than do graduates of
Ivy League schools.
Your parents should be your greatest allies in your college pursuit, and because they're likely to be helping you fund your education, it's very important to consult them. You'll discover that you have very different views than your parents, but put your heads together during the decision making process.
Rubenstone advises making sure your high-school guidance counselor is on your side as well. Your counselor has a gold mine of informationbut you have to ask for it.
"Too often, students and their parents simply assume certain colleges are out of their financial reach, and guidance counselors do nothing to dispel this belief," says Rubenstone. "The truth is, the pricier a college, the more money there is to give away."
Rubenstone says the majority of students admitted to Smith, where she works as an admissions official, receive financial aid, including middle-class students whose parents may not have done a super job of saving for college.
"Set your sights as high as possible at the start of your college search," Rubenstone says. "Sure, finances may indeed play a part when a student makes a final decision about which school to attend, but no tuition price tag should be so formidable as to deter a bright high schooler from applying to a top college."
And you have one more key support in this endeavorvisit your credit union for information about student loans. (Use this "What Will it Take to Save for a College Education" calculator to help your planning.)
|© 2000 Credit Union National Association Inc.|