College is a major turning point in our lives; a journey which helps us to further discover who we are and what we want to do in the world. There is so much thought, work, and careful decision making that goes into picking the best school for you. Being a junior in high school myself, I am learning these steps as I move along in the process. Based on my knowledge and experiences, I will provide you with a series of tips that will help you to find the school of your dreams.
Phase 1: (Better) Figuring out Who you Are, What you Want in a School, and What you Want to Pursue
Before you even start the whole process, I just want to be clear that nobody can tell you what you want better than you can. Therefore, as you experience the entire college process, make decisions based on your own judgments of your experiences and of the information that you learn.
The first thing that I recommend doing (and one of the first things that I did) before you choose a school is to fill out a “profile” of yourself to see what fits you. Answer the following questions about yourself, and the more specific you are, the better:
- What are your favorite classes and why?
- What are your least favorite classes and why?
- What general area of study do you see yourself going into? (Liberal Arts, Sciences, Mathematics, etc.)
- What major or career do you want to pursue? (You do not have to answer this right away)
- What state or region would you want your school to be located in? (Northwest, Midwest, South, Atlantic States, etc.)
- What atmosphere would you want your school to be located in? (City, suburban, town, rural, etc.)
- What are the three most important things to you in a school?
- What is your ideal school size? (This can be a specific number or a general term, such as “5,000” or “mid-size”
- Is there a person who has been influential to you in your life? How so?
- How would you describe yourself? How would your friends describe you?
- What have you done for community service?
- What have you done for extracurricular activities?
- How have you spent your summers?
Once you have filled out this questionnaire about yourself, you will have a better sense of what you are looking for in a school. I also would like to point out that college counselors are excellent resources as well if you have them, and take their advice as needed.
The process for choosing a major will also help you figure out what you are good at and what you want, and this is vital to the college experience because these skills are necessary to shaping what you want to do and who you want to become. If you are like me, then you choose a major before picking a school; this path is not for everyone, but it is perfect for me because I am very goal oriented and driven; I have a particular field that I want to pursue and am using college as a resource and as access to that field. If you are the type that would rather pick the school first and then figure out what programs it has to offer, that is great too; do whatever suits you best. If you want to pick the schools based on your major, but perhaps don’t have a major in mind (but want to choose one), here are the things that I did in order to choose a major:
I thought about the things that I am good at because that will make my job much easier and ultimately more successful. Then, I thought about the things that I am passionate about. Next, I used the College Board Book of Majors 2009 (there is a 2011 version available at the library) to help me figure out what major would best suit me. The book tells you about what people tend to gravitate toward that major, what skills you need to have to pursue the major, what the overall major is like, what courses you take in the major, what jobs you can get from that major, inside word on the study of the major, and other majors you might like based on the major you are currently looking at. If you have ideas about what you are good at and what you want, it will be easier to use the book to help you get a more specific idea about what major will fit you.
Keep in mind that this first decision about the major is just a starting point; majors often change throughout the college experience. Though I am 99 percent sure that the major that I chose is what I want to do because the major encompasses my strengths and deep passions, I have not experienced it yet, so I have an open mind to changing majors if I decide that I want to in the future. However, knowing what I am good at and what I am passionate about gives me a better idea about the other majors that I might pursue because I can choose those majors based on my different desires and needs. I can also choose based on what worked and did not work from the previous major that I chose. Hopefully, you can do the same thing with your experience.
I highly encourage you to take a moment to discover different facets about who you are and what you want if you have not done so yet. It is vital to picking a school that fits you, not molding yourself to fit a particular school. Once you better figure out who you are and what you want, then comes the next step: the research. I will talk about this in my next blog post, so make sure to check back. Good luck, and have lots of fun! Enjoy!
Meagan, Teen Advisory Group