Ten Tips for a Successful College Search (Part 2, Tips 6-10)


Ten Tips for a Successful College Search (Part 2, Tips 6-10)

Advice for high school students

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day


Your successful college search is built piece by piece over your entire time in high school. The classes you take, the grades you earn, and what you do with your hours outside the classroom will all be considered by admission officers looking to build communities that fit their own campus cultures. Use the following tips, starting right from grade 9, to help your college search go smoothly:

6) When evaluating colleges, focus on opportunities rather than brand names.

It is possible to get a lousy education at a prestigious college. If you never leave your dorm room and engage with the community, you won’t be successful. And you won’t have much to talk about in a job interview, either. So look for colleges that will allow you to try new things, build on your strengths, and focus on your future.

7) Be strong enough to swim against the current if you need to. 

Students often ask me if having too many candidates to a college from their high school can hurt them. The honest answer is that for some it can. Admission officers make the best decisions for their own institutions and don’t set “caps” on the number of applicants they’ll admit from any one school. That said, if College A has five truly outstanding and four well-above-average applicants from your high school, it might not go as well for the latter group as it would if they were the only four to apply to College B. So rather than join the crowd applying to Bumper Sticker School, why not find another college that meets your needs and blaze your own trail?

8) Apply only to colleges you can see yourself attending.

I’ve been working around the college admission process for 16 years and every April I hear at least once from a student, “I don’t want to attend any of the college I’ve been admitted to.” There’s a simple way around this: don’t apply to a college you wouldn’t want to attend. Pay as much attention to choosing your “safety” schools as you do to picking your first choice institution. Recognize that any school you submit an application to could end up being the only school that admits you and use that as a guide: “If this is the only school I get into, will I be happy to attend?” If the answer is no, hold off on that application.

9) Use the resources at your disposal.

It has never been easier to get answers to questions than it is today. If you’re fortunate enough to attend a school like mine, you have access to someone whose job is devoted to helping you navigate the college admission process. The better you get to know this person, the better he or she can help you. But even if there isn’t someone like that available to you, it’s not hard to find good advice and answers without spending a lot of money. Talk to your favorite teacher, check out a book or two from your local library, or start with a simple online search. As with any other research you do, make sure you’re using reliable sources and get more than one opinion.

10) Make the decisions you need to make at the time you need to make them. Find colleges that honor your choices.

If there’s an overall theme to these suggestions, it’s this. Students often ask me what “colleges” want them to do. First, “colleges” are different from each other and are looking for different characteristics from their applicants. Second, some of these characteristics can and do change from year to year. By using your internal compass as a guide rather than trying to guess what any particular school might prefer, you can ensure you remain true to yourself. The schools that find value in the choices you’ve made will be ones that have environments in which you’re most likely to thrive.

Click here to read Part 1, tips 1-5!

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