In most parts of the US, spring is on the doorstep. If you are a member of the high school class of 2011, you are probably starting to hear more and more questions about your future plans. “Where do you want to go to college?” “What are you going to major in?” If you took your PSAT’s last fall, you have your academic record and some indication of your standardized testing capabilities, which is a good point from which to start.
If you are fortunate, you also have an accessible and knowledgeable guidance counselor available in your high school. But as a recent survey from the non-profit research group Public Agenda indicated, 48% of recent high school graduates surveyed felt their counselor viewed them as simply another “face in the crowd.” If you have knowledgeable and available resources at school, it’s a great place to start. If not, other resources, such as books and websites are plentiful.
Start by evaluating your academic profile, because colleges will. Overall, you should plan to apply to a range of schools, covering a spectrum from “reach” to “likely.” Colleges will evaluate your application in the context of your high school. In general, the more competitive you are within your high school class, the more competitive a college you can apply to. Have you taken the AP, IB or honors classes that are offered? Have you taken 4 or 5 solid academic courses each year? Are your test scores within, or above the ranges cited by the colleges? It might be easier to obtain “A’s” in less rigorous classes, but the most selective colleges will look for demonstrated rigor in your curriculum.
You might have a well-formed idea of your intended major, or you might join the largest freshman major on most campuses: “undecided.” How much of a role should your anticipated area of study play in your college planning? Honestly, it varies. If you have some interest in a specific field, like engineering, it’s important that you include in your search universities that offer such an option. The same holds true for nursing, business, architecture, and a few other select areas. Yes, you might change your major later on – which is why selecting a college based upon an external ranking of a single division, like engineering, can be problematic. But if you have a serious interest, consider the availability an important factor. It is quite difficult to receive an engineering degree from a college that does not have an engineering program.
So many factors can influence the choice of colleges to which you apply. This is the first of several blog posts that will address factors to consider formulating a college list.