by Martha Green Quirk, M.A.
With almost 4,000 public and private colleges and universities, pre-professional and trade schools, including junior and community colleges, in the United States, how do you decide to which colleges you will apply?
Each school has advantages and opportunities. Each has its own special learning environment with academic and extracurricular options available to you. As you research the options and possibilities, obvious choices will begin to emerge.
How do you choose between the schools you think you want to go to and the schools you can get into? How will you know which college is right for you?
What does it mean to choose the “right” college? It means that the right college for you is the one in which you “feel right”—the one in which you “fit” academically, athletically, culturally, and socially; and where you feel comfortable; and where you can best develop and improve your individual talents.
The college market for qualified students is not a closed market. No matter what your test scores or GPA, there is a college out there for you, and you will have choices to make. The college market is tight only if you are considering those schools in the “Top 100.”
The “name” schools or the schools others are considering may or may not be the right ones for you. Don’t limit your choices to the schools your best friends attend, or your parent’s alma maters, or colleges that are in your home state.
One way you find colleges that are right for you is to learn more about them through research on the Internet. See if they have the academic or athletic programs you are interested in. Do they offer the social life or abroad programs you are seeking? Is the campus known to be relatively conservative or liberal in its policies and programs? Do you want to join a fraternity or a sorority? Will the college provide you with internships and alumni connections for jobs after graduation? Is this a college where financial aid and scholarships will help cover the tuition costs?
The main question is, “What do you want out of college, and which college will help you achieve your goals?” Remember, too, that several different colleges may be right for you ... all for different reasons. You need to determine which ones have the learning environment most in line with your own educational, career, and personal goals.
Accept or admit rate
Realistically evaluate your chances of admission by comparing your grades and test scores with the published averages from each college.
Also important is the published statistic called “Accept or Admit Rate.” This percentage is the result of dividing the number of admitted students by the number of applicants. The lower the percentage, the more difficult it is to be admitted by that college.
So be sure that your final list of colleges to which you want to apply represents a range of admit rates:
This will give you a variety of options based on admit rate. Thus your chances of receiving acceptances increases as you include more “target” schools on your apply list.
For these statistics (and more) on colleges throughout the U.S., see The College Handbook, published by the College Board.
Well-rounded student bodies
Another important factor in your search for the right colleges to apply to is to remember that colleges are looking for “well-rounded student bodies”—not simply well-rounded students. Ask yourself this question: Is this college looking for what I might bring as a new student?
Do you play the tuba instead of the clarinet? Do you play lacrosse instead of soccer? Have you had experience doing scientific research with a teacher? What have you done that might be considered different from the mainstream of students? Colleges are looking for you!
With extracurricular activities, it’s quality, not quantity that matters. Suddenly packing a bunch of unrelated activities into your junior and senior years won’t impress colleges. Consider your consistent involvement in some of the following activities:
The importance of diversity
It’s also important to know that colleges are looking for racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity in their new student classes. Admissions officers and admissions committees will often be quite favorably interested in prospective applicants who offer such diversity. There are no guarantees to acceptance just because you come from a diverse background, but you will want to consider whether or not you fall into one of these groups:
The colleges you really want
A final reminder: most students apply to 5-12 colleges that offer a range of acceptability. But it’s very important not to apply to a college just to see if you can get in—especially if you have no intention of going there if you are admitted. Only apply to colleges that, if you are admitted, you’d be delighted to attend. Otherwise, why bother?
Martha Green Quirk, M.A., has been active in the college admissions field for over 30 years. In 2008 she founded her own independent educational consulting company, College Admissions Consulting (CAC), in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC).