The college search is one of the most stressful times in a person’s academic career. Because college is supposed to be the most educational period of our lives, we must make sure that all possible research is done and that we are 100% satisfied and sure with our decision. To begin your search you should start by making a list of schools both in your area and far away that interest you. There are also many questions that you must think about and answer to establish a list of wants and needs for your college list. For example, what environment do you wish to spend 4 years in? There are urban universities such as NYU; suburban universities such as Tufts University; and rural universities such as the University of Idaho. Are you interested in going to a school with a small student body (less than 2000 students), a medium student body (5000- 10000 students), or a large student body (20000 or more students)? Also, ask yourself if research opportunities or studying abroad are important to your collegiate experience. Do you prefer it if the school is public or private? Are you interested in a 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree? Is greek life important to you? How important is the school’s diversity? How far from home are you willing to go? If you can answer these questions then you are on the road to making a great list.
All this being said, if you need good scholarships and financial aid, but are unsure if your school of choice will give you the money that you need, I would suggest that you put the school on your list. The college admissions process isn’t a formula in which the outcome is the same every year. It never hurts to put your best foot forward. If you need a fee waiver, schools can provide waivers based on proof of need. Dreams are always within reach as long as you put the work in.
Getting back to the list, there are three categories for schools that will fit in your list: Reach, Match, and Safety. First reach schools, which are the schools that you have a lower chance of getting into; they are the most competitive with the highest GPA requirements and test scores. Reach schools are schools with a low enough acceptance rate that the predictability of your admissions is quite low. Reach schools boast an acceptance rate of 30% or lower. Then match schools, which are the list of schools that fit your academic standings. While these schools offer a higher chance at admission, match does not necessarily mean a guarantee. Lastly, safety schools, which are schools that you are at least 80% guaranteed to get into. Safeties are categorized as schools where your academic standing exceeds that of the range of freshman students.
While every school encourages you to get high grades and test scores, there are more components to admissions. The things that can set you apart from others with outstanding grades are what you do in your free time. Things such as volunteering, clubs, sports, jobs, etc. can make reach school more attainable. You can always put work in this area because the things that you do in your free time are a reflection of you and what you are passionate about. Every day in high school you are working to better yourself and the chance that you have to go to the school of your dreams. But it's bigger than that, as a young adult you have the chance to change the world that you live in. A single day represents a chance where you can grow or stay stagnant. If you can prove in your application that you used it every day to grow then schools will notice.
When you are narrowing down your list of schools make sure that you do as much research as possible on the school. No matter how prestigious the school is, it may not be right for you. Beyond the name and prestige, does this school capture all that you want for yourself. A school that might be considered big may not have the type of community that you want. It may have a curriculum that you don’t see yourself being able to fully enjoy. People may try to tell you that just because the school has a rich history or a respected name that it must be right for you. I’d say that this is the wrong way to go about your college search. Make sure that the schools you pick are catering to who you are. If you feel out of place on campus then you won’t enjoy your experience. Read other students' experiences online (keeping in mind that each experience is different), make sure that the campus is a place that you want to live, look up some professors that you would be interested in working with at the school. This work may seem tedious but it can go a long way to formulating a list and even getting into your school of choice. If the school asks the ‘Why’ question, showing that you have researched the school’s traditions, professors, classes, etc. will set you apart from other applicants.
This all seems like a lot of work (and it is), but there are still everyday things that need to be taken care of. You still must maintain good grades and study for your standardized tests, as well as have extracurriculars. Life can feel tight and stressful so it is important to talk to a friend or family member that listens and gives you advice. That being said, I also think that it's important to stay focused on what you see for yourself. Take advice from those that you trust, but ultimately the decision is up to you. The way I see it is that if you have been working your whole life, and you find yourself in the position to go to college, then making the most of that opportunity is something that you owe to yourself. To conclude the admissions process doesn’t define who you are as a person or your value. People who have got into 1 out of 10 schools have gone and been happy. Give it your all and do all your research because it can be the difference between getting into the school of your dreams.