Picking A College, A Primer With Tons Of Great Tips

My friend and former collegue when we both worked at The Courant, Ed LaFreniere has written a guide to help narrow your search for college.

It is an issue that we will come back to many times as I believe educating our your is crucial. I also believe that we waste a lot of money on sending students unprepared to study but fully prepared to party. Sometimes a year’s break working in the real world before entering college is a good life experience. Also, two year colleges are cost-effective, give students an opportunity to learn in a less stressful environment and frequently help students get an education in areas where they can actually make a living. Those are my thoughts.

 By Edward LaFreniere


You’ve read the Fiske Guides and The Yale Daily News’ Insider’s Guide to the Colleges; you’ve perused Rugg’s Recommendations for appropriate majors; you’ve memorized a gazillion facts from books full of statistics, such as Barron’s. You’ve clicked through endless pages at collegeboard.com and princetonreview.com. And you’ve started to compile a list of 1,001 Ways To Tell Your Parents To Take a Good Long Hike in the College Admissions Process.

 You’ve narrowed your original list of 20 colleges down to, say, nine – three dream schools, three good matches and three fallbacks. Now. Take a deep breath. What things should you consider for each?

 Aademics and Faculty

 – Examine each school’s profile. Are the typical GPAs, SATs, ACTs and other statistics or scores similar to yours? Yes, try a few reaches. But if the numbers are in the stratosphere, and yours are down to earth along with those of other mere mortals, will you have a shot? And will you really WANT one? Say that everyone in your freshman Advanced Calculus XVII class turns out to have scored 800 on the SAT math, and you, the village idiot, ended up with a pathetic 790. Will you develop an inferiority complex? Will you tiptoe into class each day, and slink to the back, out of sight, behind the girl with the huge hair, which has been estimated to be about 28.27 square feet if you rough out a circle from one side of her curls to the other? Quick – think!!! Did you figure out that the diameter is 6 feet based on a radius of 3? If you couldn’t do this without a calculator, you might want to rethink MIT, where they can get it in a nanosecond without a billionth of a bead of sweat.

 – How does your high school course load compare with those of admitted students? ‘Rigor of course load’ is as important a factor in the admissions process as there is these days, even more important than the number of holes in your jeans. If you have aced half a dozen AP courses, you may well be in the running just about everywhere. If you’ve never even heard of an AP course, well, join the hundreds of thousands of others. Where will you fit? Scour individual web sites for admissions requirements – the minimum number of high school credits you must suffer through in English, history, math, foreign language, science, art and electives, along with the recommended number, which is often higher. If you’re in the ballpark, you may want to step up to the plate. But if everyone else has ninety-four years of Spanish, and you have six and a half days, you’re probably close to ‘adios.’

 – Consider your personality in terms of the level of competitiveness. You may be the hardest worker in the Western Hemisphere, willing to spend 40 hours preparing for each chem quiz. But how will you feel if the rest of your classmates are out partying all night, and the next morning they simply glance at their textbooks for 30 seconds in the hallway outside class, stagger in, pass out, start snoring, and still do better than you? Some students rise and fall with the competition. If you’re one of them, think it through; this may affect your ego and your level of confidence. Perhaps you’ll reach higher levels if you have to work harder. If that’s the case, try two or three reaches (in addition to good-match and safety schools) where the numbers are higher, on average, than yours. If you are at the upper end of the statistics, will you slack off for four years? What will bring out the best in YOU, other than, of course, your laundry service?

– Thoroughly research class sizes. If you’re at a large university, you can end up with as many as 1,000 classmates in an introductory lecture. At a small liberal arts college, you may rarely have more than 20 students in any class. Often the choice boils down to personal comfort levels. At a huge school, you may confront a daunting bureaucracy. You must be aggressive to get the required, or desired, courses. If you sit through an hour-long Physics 101 lecture, and can’t figure out what language the lecturer was speaking, will you spend time tracking down a teaching assistant, or a professor, for extra help? If the thought of that level of aggressiveness is extremely frightening, you have a couple of choices: Sign up for a correspondence course on light-bulb design, or consider smaller colleges, where you can talk to the professor right after class. There, you will be more likely to get away with explaining that you were simply too exhausted to be able to pay full attention. You might tell him or her that the frat party – no, no, make that the 24 hours you just spent preparing for this wonderful class! – rendered your brain inoperable. Warning: This tactic is not likely to work if you reek of, uh, certain liquid substances often served at parties.

 – Who teaches the classes? At liberal arts colleges, professors typically do. At big universities, teaching assistants may do some of the classroom work while professors spend time researching, writing, speaking, or, in some cases, relieving the heart-pounding pressures of academia by taking fourteen-year sabbaticals. How good are the people at the front of the classroom? Are they articulate, understandable, approachable and EVER available? Do they appear energetic, inspiring and animated? If they don’t move or communicate well, and you start to suspect that a hearse is about to pull up to the building – and this is your ADVISER, in your MAJOR – reconsider. Rarely will you find an institution that has uniformly excellent teachers who receive a standing ovation every day, or uniformly bad teachers who get booed. But the trend ought to favor the former.

 – How wide an array of majors is there? Variety can be important. Some places offer a couple of hundred majors, some small ones a couple of dozen. Shoot for those that have a number of disciplines that interest you. If the list has nothing that will keep you awake, you may be headed for a ‘major’ disaster. What are your interests now? They are more than likely to change over four years, so be careful about choosing a place that has just one subject that fascinates you. Are there a number of cool ones? If you decide to switch from nuclear physics to something else after the first day, will there BE something else? Aim for breadth – even pre-meds can fall in love with such oddities as anthropology or English before they ever see a drop of blood. But if you’re all but certain that you won’t change your mind, research schools that have a very strong program in that field. Just because a college has a good reputation doesn’t mean it’s good at everything. If you go to Cal Tech for engineering, that’s one thing; if you want to study home economics, perhaps you’d do well to set your sights elsewhere.

 – Know the academic requirements. A few institutions allow you to choose all your courses. The vast, vast majority, however, make you take a year or two of required courses, often in math, writing, foreign language, science – you know, the same stuff that’s driving you bonkers now. And the requirements are different everywhere. If you don’t want to endure four more years of Latin, be certain that you won’t be forced to.

 The campus and overall environment

 –Size DOES matter for most: Visit a number of campuses early on, ideally by your junior year, to get a sense of how big, or small, an environment makes you comfortable. Assuming that you have a choice, given financial factors, will you freak out at a place that has 50,000 students – or will you be happier than a wart hog in a mud pit? Are you aggressive enough to fight your way through that huge bureaucracy to get the classes you want? To hunt down professors and teaching assistants for extra help? On the other hand, do you prefer a small environment where everyone knows you? Where you can’t hide (which may, or may not, always be a good thing!)? Where the professor can tell that you’re absorbing the material about as well as waxed plastic? Some campuses will give you an instant feeling of home sweet home; others will make you think you’re on Mars.

– Is the setting (urban, suburban, rural) appropriate? Are you a city kid who loves theater and late-night restaurants? Or would you rather read poetry in a tree on a rural campus that’s a million miles from nowhere? Maybe something in the middle?

 – Do you want to be relatively close to home? Or would you just as soon give your family the opportunity to travel through mountains by yak for three weeks to get to you?

 – Will the climate enable you to engage in outdoor activities that you absolutely, positively can’t do without? You probably will have a tough time winning the national waterskiing championships if you spend six months in the Maine woods.

 – How good is the food (best to try it out, if feasible; at the very least e-mail students and inquire). Hey, you have to eat at least a few times a week. Is there a variety at each meal, and how often do the menus repeat themselves? The same old slop and glop will get old in four days, let alone four years.

 – Is campus housing available for as long as you expect to want it, or need it? Lots of small colleges guarantee it for all four years. Many (if not most) big universities guarantee it for freshman year only, or sometimes freshman/sophomore years only. After that you’re in a lottery, or you live off-campus. Will you have to pitch a tent? Would you rather be imprisoned in Alcatraz for the next few years than live in this area?

– How good and accessible is off-campus housing? Within walking distance of the campus? Biking? Driving? Space shuttle? Are typical apartments and houses in good condition and spacious enough for the number of roommates that you no doubt will have to pick up after? Ask the housing office for information.

 – Facilities overall – are they modern, clean, attractive and well-maintained? If you have to ask your parents for an industrial-strength respirator, the answer is probably ‘no.’ Rate the following:

 1. Classrooms. Lecture halls. Labs. Are they comfortable enough? Do they have strategically placed alcoves for naps?

 2. Dorms. Are the rooms livable? In good condition? Palatial enough for YOU? Clean? Spacious enough to step over bodies on Saturday nights (and Friday nights, and Thursday nights…)? If rooms are as messy as yours at home, this is probably not a healthy thing. Also, are the rooms ‘wired for Internet access’ (or is it only your dorm-mates who are wired)? Does it matter if you have instant Internet access from your room – or can you live with a public area? Also, are some dorms considered better – and closer to academic buildings – than others? Are there ‘theme’ dorms, such as ‘substance-free’ or ‘kids who actually have to work every night and need peace and quiet’? Are dorms coed? Does it make a difference? If you’re in the South, are they air-conditioned?

 3. Cafeterias and other eating facilities. Will you have to interrupt your eight hours of homework each night to wait in long lines to get your food? And will you then have to stand there like a dope holding your tray for half an hour while waiting for a seat to open up?

 4. Library. We hate to bring up a sore spot, but you may have to spend a few minutes there eventually. Does it have chairs, and enough volumes? Will you be able to find a spot at your best time of day?

 5. Sports facilities. As an example, if you love basketball but probably aren’t headed for the NBA or WNBA, are there enough courts – and playing time – for unrecognized talent such as yourself? If you’re a golfer, are there courses nearby that don’t charge eight hundred thousand dollars for green’s fees?

 6. Computer facilities. Vast majorities of students bring their own. If you don’t, will there be enough? Are they of recent vintage? Will you get access only at 4 a.m. as a freshman?

 – Is the campus navigable? Can you get from one class to the next without a helicopter and before the end of the semester?

 – Is the name prestigious enough for you? One of the main reasons for hundreds of thousands of transfers is this one. Just on the off chance that you get wait-listed at Harvard, will your second choice (and third and fourth, etc.) satisfy any need you may have for name recognition? Perhaps you don’t care, and that may be fine, too.

 – Semester vs. trimester. With semesters you’re typically done with half the year just before Christmas vacation. With trimesters you have more frequent exams, but, at many schools, fewer courses at one time. Does it matter? Will you need a big mid-year break to spend a month listening to the sweet sounds of Spinal Tap or Cannibal Corpse?

 – Early decision/early action? If you fall in love with one school – not a good idea to limit yourself, by the way – you can choose one of these. But remember that you will fit in very nicely at perhaps dozens or even hundreds of colleges. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment; with so many applicants, many admissions officers acknowledge that the process, particularly in highly competitive situations, is a crap-shoot. Whatever route you choose, know – and abide by – the deadlines for applications and financial aid forms. Admissions people are more like your Latin teacher than the dude who taught you poetry and gave you three years to complete assignments. Be on time.

 – Can you afford the place? What’s your likely debt after four years? Many graduates pay back loans until they’re 40 – this is fact, and it can hurt your lifestyle. Be careful not to put yourself in a position where you’ll be driving a Yugo for 20 years instead of the BMW you dream about. Debt is probably the biggest stressor among adult Americans. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to get into it AFTER college; don’t go overboard now! Once you’re accepted and you know the financial aid offers, be realistic about this. Surveys have shown that earning power within six or so years after graduation may have little to do with where you studied as an undergraduate.

 – Where do grads go afterward? How many go on for advanced degrees? What percentage find jobs right away? Any stats on average starting pay – and salary, say, five years afterward? How many companies recruit on campus each year? Is there a strong, supportive alumni network? How many grads become nomadic sheep herders in Tibet, or Paris Hilton groupies, or, worse, lawyers or dentists?

 – Safety and security. Log on to securityoncampus.org. Under a law known as the Clery Act, colleges must publish crime stats going back three years. You’ll see reports dealing with off-campus and on-campus crime, as well as less serious offenses. But keep in mind that low numbers at a very small school may, as a ratio, be comparable to higher numbers at bigger schools. Don’t overreact. But study the trends and you’ll get an overall sense.

 – Off-campus attractions. What’s important to you? Restaurants? Cultural offerings, such as theater, concerts and museums? A town that’s big enough to perform community service? Can you walk to town? Heaven forbid, but how’s the night life and bar scene (not that this would apply to you, the consummate conservative 4.0 geek, but friends who visit you may want to know). Chances are your campus will offer activities. But will you need more? Is there something to do within 10 miles other than contemplate a virgin forest? How about other leisure activities? Maybe you like to fish, or kayak, or hike in the mountains? Archery may not be allowed in certain parts of the campus, particularly in the dorms, so be forewarned!

 The All-Important Visit

Can you imagine buying a house and surrounding property sight-unseen, in a neighborhood you’ve never visited? Oh, and guess what – a huge family comes with it, idiosyncrasies, dysfunction and all – and you’ve never met any of them. But they’re yours for four years! Deciding on which college to attend without a visit (preferably while school is in session) would not be altogether different. Yes, pictures from the Internet and from slick brochures can give you an idea. But you actually have to be there, if at all possible, to experience the place. If you can, spend a couple of days, including an overnight in a dorm. Some tips:

–You’ve just stepped on campus. Quick – what’s your first impression?

• If Voldemort creatures are buzzing your head while flying around on Firebolt brooms, hey, this might be the place! On the other hand, if you see physics professors hurling rotten tomatoes at students as part of a time-and-motion experiment … or notice teaching assistants tossing kids out of classroom windows to keep large lectures from getting too overcrowded … think twice!

If you get the creeps, borrow a broom and take off! First impressions count a lot. You may not know why, but trust your instincts. You should feel like you belong.

– What kind of ‘feel’ do you get from watching students?

Are they super competitive, slitherin’ around each other with a killer instinct like Draco Malfoy? Or are they all wearing suits, ties, two-inch-thick glasses and pocket protectors, gazing quizzically for minutes at a time and eventually exclaiming, ‘Aha! I’ve figured it out – this is a SANDWICH!’ Or are they just like you – wearing a filthy old baseball cap (backwards, of course) along with a tee-shirt (never washed) that’s imprinted with ‘Computer Science Majors Byte,’ and flip-flops, even in the middle of a blizzard?

– Observe. How are students interacting with each other?

Are they carrying on pleasant conversations? Carrying books? Carrying beer at 9 o’clock in the morning? Carrying classmates who’ve had too much beer?

Seriously, do they seem overwhelmed by stress or panic instead of appearing relatively relaxed and happy? Final-exam week is not the time to make this determination. Can you see yourself here, mixing it up with this cast of characters?

– Stop and talk to a few kids who aren’t screaming, weeping or cramming while running. Don’t ask endless questions. Just try a few that are easy to reply to, such as:

• Whew! Does ANYONE around here ever take a shower? … How many times is the average student arrested during spring break?… Looking around at all you guys, I can’t help but wonder – is the ENTIRE admissions staff, like, demented or something?

Actually, you might do better asking how competitive the academics are and how much time you’d likely spend on school work each day – or anything else that’s important to you, such as intramural sports. If those you approach snub you, either you have your baseball cap on the right way, you’ve asked an inane question, or you’re back on Mars.

– How does the physical part of the campus ‘feel’?

If you are a country kid who climbs trees, will an asphalt jungle be a good fit? Or, if you’re a city kid who believes that trees are solely for dogs, will you feel out of place? Does the architecture soothe your soul – or make you want to jump out of your skin?

– Don’t let the weather sway you on the days you visit. It rains everywhere. Sometimes it snows. Sometimes it’s sunny, or hot and muggy. Try to ignore the basketball-size hail so that you can appraise the place fairly.

– Ask for an interview if you think it will help. Large universities rarely, if ever, require them. Are you good one-on-one with an authority figure, anyway? Can you avoid letting loose with sarcasm for half an hour? If it’s a small college, an interview may be in order. At the very least, you can ask questions. Assess the risks as opposed to what you might learn. If you can present yourself like George Clooney or Reese Witherspoon, go for it! If you’re more like Napoleon Dynamite, take dance lessons instead.

– Visit a dorm or two, and not just those on a tour that are sparkling clean and show like a Newport mansion. Spend a night if you can. See what real dorm life is like. Noisy? Lots of partying? Can you hear yourself think? Can people study quietly in public areas? Is your list of items to bring in the fall topped off with ‘gas mask’? Remember, there’s no maid service. No Mom or Dad. If the rooms look and smell like your brother’s, shop the classifieds for tree houses.

– Stop and think about how your true initial reaction. Yes, your first impression is critical – particularly if the first word that comes to mind is ‘hideous’ or ‘repulsive.’ But many others decide within 10 seconds of a tour that THIS IS HEAVEN!!! Then they spend the rest of the walk building a case to validate that impression. Once you’ve toured, think about retracing those steps. Explore prudently and honestly, and absorb the ambience. As for the thousand students napping on the quad: Are they really asleep, or has the cafeteria mystery meat done them in? Examine a few for pulses.

– Learn about activities. Peruse the web site before your visit for a list of clubs and the names of individuals who run them. Email for information. Once there, visit the yearbook office, or ask for a copy in the library. Are lots of teams, clubs and other organizations shown? See a lot of things that you’d be interested in? Or are there 200 pages of photos from beer-pong competitions? If a team consisting of the college president and the vice presidents is the perennial winner, watch out!!!

– Will there be enough events and activities on campus? If you scoped them out on the home page, and the only event Saturday night is a lecture titled ‘Wart Hogs from A to Z,’ will you be thrilled? Scan bulletin boards for postings in academic buildings and elsewhere, such as cafeterias and the student union. Read the student newspaper. Are there a zillion events to choose from? Or will you be bored to tears for four long years? If they have only two local TV stations, which show endless reruns of Star Trek and Green Acres, will that be enough? Some studious types can do without much of an entertainment calendar. For others, well, it may be one reason why they don’t always wake up with a clear head. After all, there’s only so much you can take of Arnold the Pig, and when that Green Acres theme song gets stuck in your head like a broken record 10 minutes into your botany final, you’ll wish you’d gone to NYU.

– Other things to research with extracurriculars:

• Is there a sizeable proportion of students who are interested in the same things as you? Is there a computer club, for example, if that’s what you’re passionate about? Varsity, junior varsity, club or intramural curling facilities? Busloads of skiing enthusiasts? Frisbee freaks? Thousands of participants for an annual Dirty Stinkin’ Sneaker Contest?

 • Can you get tickets to campus athletic events? Will you have to camp out overnight in the snow and sub-zero temperatures to get a seat smack behind a post for your average hockey game? Have football tickets been sold out for six generations, except for those residing atop flag poles above the stadium?

– Try to visit others who may have a profound impact on important areas of your life: a coach, a cleric, band or theater director, or community service staff, perhaps. List your three favorite activities outside the classroom – things that are vital to your existence: Will there be plenty of opportunities to engage in them? E-mail the powers-that-be in advance. Will you get a warm welcome? For instance, are you an aspiring actor who has done a lot of theater? If the head of the college’s drama department greets you with a sneer and tells you that you’d do better to set your sights on becoming assistant water boy for the math team, inquire about other options. If it ain’t a fit, ya better split.

– Visit buildings that house academic departments you’re interested in. How impressive are the facilities? Will you be claustrophobic in tiny rooms built out of cinder blocks that haven’t been painted since the Peloponnesian War? Also, walk into the central office for the department chairman/woman – or at least for the academic dean who oversees the department. Ask a couple of questions. Try, if at all possible, to meet a professor or two. See if they seem friendly and supportive, not to mention competent and aware of your presence. Can you picture yourself going in and begging to get into a class that’s oversubscribed? Or would you rather watch Barney reruns ten times a day?

– Visit the job placement office, if there is one, and ask about internships, too. Will you have a shot at learning about the stock market while working summers for a major brokerage? Or are you more likely to be mucking out horse stalls for the equestrian club?

The ‘fit:’ an absolutely critical factor

 – A REALLY BIG QUESTION: Do you see a true fit in terms of your needs and your personality? Would you swear on a stack of Bibles? How about on a stack of music CDs that you actually PAID FOR? Ha – gotcha! Some points to keep in mind:

 • Tell yourself the truth. Don’t delude yourself just because of a prestigious name, or just because your parents donated five billion dollars to the place. And remind your parents that this should, as much as possible given financial realities, be your decision. You’re the one who’s going to have to sit in those classrooms and build a life for yourself. You’re the one who should feel confident, optimistic and happy.

• TOO enthusiastic? Are you ready to jump right in … join 40 clubs … attend that lecture on Wart Hogs … run, not walk, to the Animal Science Department and beg to get into Wart Hog Anatomy I … and help your parents pay the astronomical tuition bill by spending Saturday nights bleaching the football team’s socks? If you start getting a little manic and are ready to do anything to get into this place, stop! You haven’t allowed yourself to think this through carefully. We’re not kidding – there are positives and negatives to every college and university. Blind love usually becomes unrequited very quickly, and those socks will start to stink in no time. Disillusionment is not fun.

 • Have an overall positive sense? If your gut, your heart and your head agree with each other after serious reflection, well, now you’re getting somewhere. Either that, or you have multiple-personality disorder. But it’s best to apply only to institutions where the plusses by far outweigh the minuses, and you should, indeed, see the potential for thriving, getting involved and allowing your passions to flourish.

 • Remember how you felt during your visit. If you were paralyzed with dread pretty quickly, and your only thought was that you’d prefer four years of solitary confinement in a dungeon, never glance back. Don’t make a lousy personal decision just because of, say, a magazine ranking. This is YOUR LIFE!!! If you ever hear that alter ego repeat a school’s name incessantly solely because of prestige, consider yourself to be hearing voices, and make an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist.

– The social scene: If fraternities and sororities dominate the weekends (and, let’s face it, maybe some weeknights, too), will you feel like a lamb awaiting slaughter? Many of these organizations perform impressive amounts of community service; others make Animal House look like Mary Poppins. Will this scene be Greek to you – either way?

– Did someone say, ‘party school’? Or are there rumors of a drug problem? A reputation is one thing – reality is another. Ask as many students as you can (don’t limit yourself to the president of your favorite fraternity – try people in a cafeteria, and a few who can pinpoint the location of the library, give or take a few hundred yards). Some students at every school will treat the place as a country club, but they may be just a small minority. However, if you discover that the most important item to take with you to campus is a bail bondsman or a lawyer, caveat emptor (‘buyer beware,’ as you should have learned in Latin!). Again, securityoncampus.org posts arrest numbers for each campus. Also go to myspace.com, or similar sites. You know why!

– Will you feel ‘well-grounded’ here? If you’re headed for Juilliard and music is your life, THAT will go a long way toward counteracting any negatives, like the fact that you’re a country kid who never wore shoes, and you’re wondering why your feet hurt so much in February. But otherwise, is there a terrific and highly respected course of study, which draws passionate and friendly students, that truly energizes you? Are there students who share your interests and goals and are willing to work hard to achieve them – and help YOU? A good grounding helps. If you’re a golfer, for example, are there nearby courses where other students have created a club or an intramural league? Have you emailed the person in charge? Has he or she embraced your enthusiasm and promised to help you get involved? In other words, find something that will connect you to the place, to give you a sense of belonging. Avoid colleges at which your first thought is, ‘Where can I find a cannon powered by a Pratt & Whitney engine that can shoot me a million miles away?’

 – Know thyself. Yes, it’s trite. But it’s true. What type of experience will make you very happy? And what will make you absolutely miserable? If your greatest fear is public speaking, and all your classes will have 800 students, and you will be forced to give presentations in all of them, you won’t have to make that emergency appointment with a psychiatrist – someone else will do it for you! If you’re a liberal Democrat and want a warm climate in which you can hone your croquet skills year-round, fine. But will the political environment make it seem as if you’re in the netherworld? In whatever way, will you be able to tolerate a culture that is completely different, that might make you cringe whenever the talk turns to politics and you start to wonder how any single human being – let alone forty thousand of them – can believe such things? Are you from a state of a completely different color? How about sexuality? Will the culture welcome, rather than ostracize, you?

– Know thy counseling services. College can be very stressful, and some students may need assistance in coping and adjusting, or for treatment of depression or other psychological issues. What types of services are available?. What brochures and other information do they offer? Find out where counselors are located – hopefully not at a single desk out in public in the lobby of the student union, under a huge banner. Ditto infirmary, hospital and other health-care facilities. What if you, too, are felled by the mystery meat? Are doctors and nurses on call, or on the premises, at all times?

– Diversity. Do you really want a school full of kids that are just like YOU? That have the same background? That think like you??? Not a good idea. Richness in diversity is educational and inspirational, not to mention interesting – and, after a day or so, is not even noticed at some campuses because of a healthy blending. If you are a minority, ask current students about this aspect of campus life, which may be critical to your happiness. Is there much diversity? If so, do people of color, for example, tend to spend all their time with each other? Or does everyone mix well? How closely are all groups intertwined?

– Facilities for the disabled? If this is important to you, do LOTS of research. Will you be climbing steep hills? Does the library have access only via 42 steps? How about the dorms, bathroom facilities and classroom buildings? If a campus’s idea of the disabled is people who remain unconscious during weekend parties, you’re at the wrong place.

– Religious services. Is your religion represented on campus? Can you find services within a 500-mile radius? For many, this is absolutely vital. If you’re blindsided, you may not have a prayer of being happy or of feeling whole for the next four years.

 And One Last Thing

In case you don’t get in: Say that your top choice didn’t need you, the world-famous tuba player, this year; they were missing a trombonist instead. Or they had a full lineup for the curling team, and were recruiting a ballet dancer. This kind of thing happens, especially at small schools; it’s called ‘slotting.’ Never forget this: You are smart, you have a bright future, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other colleges may be just as good a fit for you. Remember that admissions decisions frequently seem to defy logic. Only you can decide if you’re going to allow yourself to be miserable – or if you’ll pick yourself right up and decide right then that in four years you will write to that admissions office and show them what a mistake they had made. Go get ‘em!

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2 Comments on "Picking A College, A Primer With Tons Of Great Tips"

  1. Very interesting article! Here is a great article on the colleges whose graduates earn the most money:


    • Ed LaFreniere | July 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

      Scott: PayScale.com appears to be taking these figures from its own database. I find it hard to believe that top-rated schools’ grads would be within a few thousand of schools no one’s every heard of, and I’d question the methodology and the size of the database. Is this a valid survey — or a publicity ploy?

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