College Search Process
Searching for the right college is a process, broken down below:
- What to Look for in a College
- Visiting Colleges
- Questions for College Reps
- College Interviewing Tips
Your choice of a college should be an extension of yourself, and your search for the best college for you should be guided as much by looking at yourself as it is by looking at the colleges, rankings, and guidebooks.
Focus your decision-making on what is important to you. College is not simply a place where you will study and live for four years; it will be the place where you make lifelong friends and begin to shape your adult identity both intellectually and socially.
Some factors to consider in the college search process:
- Availability of intended major
- Possibility of combining majors
- Library and computer resources
- Class sizes and faculty/student ratio
- Availability of full-time faculty vs. graduate assistants as professors
- Reputation for academic quality
- Availability of off-campus programs
- Quality of facilities and faculty in area of intended major
- Opportunities to try out career interests through internships
- Percentage of graduates accepted to intended graduate school
- Percentage of graduates employed after graduation
- Quality and accessibility of faculty
- Intellectual level of students
- Friendliness of students
- Accessibility and responsiveness of the administration
- Social opportunities—percentage students in Greek life
- Quality of social facilities for students
- Major athletic programs
- Diversity of enrollment
- Cultural opportunities
- Appearance of campus
- Size of campus
- Availability of housing
- Metropolitan area vs. rural
- Residential vs. commuter students
- Availability of good places to study
- Food—dining halls and near campus
- Nearby shopping, restaurants
- Convenience of transportation
- Total cost (tuition, fees, books, etc.)
- Cost of travel to and from home
- Availability of financial aid and scholarships
- Employment opportunities on campus
For most applicants, academic quality is the number-one issue, but few agree on how to judge it. One important measure is the attention faculty members give to the quality of instruction. Certainly, no single visit can assess this characteristic fully, but you can get some useful information by visiting a class or two. Did most students seem interested in the lecture? How advanced was the level of discussion? Did the atmosphere and class size invite student involvement?
Visiting the library and classes are important, but alone they won’t tell all that you need to know about academic quality. In fact, a common bit of wisdom about college is that half of the education is what you learn outside of your courses, especially from your peers. So do a bit of eavesdropping. Visit the student center, walk through the mail room and have lunch on campus. Listen to conversations, read bulletin boards, pick up a student newspaper. Trying to absorb the culture of campus life will help you find out what students are thinking and care about most, and if you have things in common with them.
If you’re into athletics, take time to see the sports facilities and programs. Relatively few students can be varsity athletes though, so be sure to ask about club sports, the intramural program and recreational athletics. Because availability is as important as quality, find out what hours those impressive new fitness centers and swimming pools are open for general student use.
Finally, keep a notebook to organize your thoughts about what you see on your travels: interesting people you meet, special programs you want to remember and your impressions of a campus’ overall atmosphere. Later when you need to narrow your list—and your memories of several visits have faded and blurred into each other—you’ll be glad to have a record of what you saw and heard at each school. Good luck and enjoy!
Whether you are on a campus visit or meeting with a college representative who is visiting Country Day, be prepared to ask questions about the school. Here are some suggestions:
- What do you consider to be the college’s strongest majors or departments? The most popular majors?
- When do you choose a major? How easy is it to change majors?
- What are other distinctive or unique majors or programs offered? (i.e., study abroad, internships, Washington semester, independent study, etc.)
- What percentage of your students go on to grad school and/or are employed after graduation?
- To what extent will graduate students teach my classes?
- Does the college have an honor code, and how effective is it?
- What percentage of students stay on campus on the weekends? What are some typical weekend activities? What cultural and recreational opportunities are available on and off campus?
- What percentage of students are in sororities and fraternities? Are students who choose not to join considered “outsiders?” What are the rules about alcohol on campus?
- What is the college’s policy concerning the credit and advanced standing for AP/IB tests?
- What percentage of students return for their sophomore year? Graduate? Continue on to grad school?
- Can you describe the atmosphere/personality of the campus?
- How many freshmen do not get their first choice of classes due to closeouts?
- What percentage of the college’s students live in campus housing? Describe the various residence halls.
- Is an interview required? Is an interview a possibility at your school? What part does the interview play in the admissions process? What part does an area alumni interview play?
- Do you require SAT Subject Tests?
- Do you super score the SAT and/or the ACT?
- How many students typically apply for admission each year, how many are accepted and how many enroll? What percentage are accepted Early Decision? Is this an advantage?
- What are the burning issues on campus?
- What is the general political climate on campus?
- What is the average class size? How many students are in the largest classes?
Many colleges and universities do not have admissions interviews available because of the size of their applicant pools. Others do; either with an admissions officer or with an alumni interviewer. Most colleges will tell you that the interview is not evaluative; that is, while the interviewer may take notes to share with the admissions office, the interview is primarily in place for you to ask any questions you may have.
No matter what, look at the college interview as an opportunity to share information about yourself. You want to put your “best foot forward.” Here are some suggestions:
- Dress as you would for an assembly day at school. Or something you might wear to church or synagogue. Look nice!
- Arrive early. Take the campus tour before your interview, if possible.
- Look your interviewer in the eye. Smile and give them a confident handshake to start.
- Be honest and be yourself.
- Be ready to answer the question, “Why are you interested in this college?” Be prepared to discuss several reasons why you are serious about attending the school.
- Have some questions ready, other than those you can find the answers to on the college’s Web site. Perhaps there was something on the tour you would like clarified.
- Have five attributes about yourself that you want to get across during the interview. Try to work them into the answers you give.
- Provide examples. If you say that you are a good leader, have an anecdote about a time when you demonstrated that.
- Answer questions thoroughly, but watch the length of your answers. You don’t want to answer with one sentence, but you also don’t want to continue talking too long.
- Humor is a good thing, if you use it properly. It lightens the moment and helps you take a deep breath.
Questions usually center on some themes. They include your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, your individuality, your intellectual interests and accomplishments; they might also concentrate on what you might contribute to the college, what you’ve read lately, or what you do for fun. Occasionally, colleges will ask students about current affairs, but typically they want to know about you.
Think of this as a conversation rather than an interview. What kind of conversation would you have with a friend of your parent(s)? Typically, after the first few questions, the interviewer will find out what you enjoy and will focus on that idea. Be ready with your five attributes!
Thank the interviewer for his/her time. Be sure to write a thank you note or e-mail to thank them again when you return home.
The College Counseling office has a list of questions that might be asked as well as questions you might ask. Stop by for a copy.