In the coming weeks, high school seniors like you will be getting acceptance letters from colleges. This is a really stressful time, filled with hope and anxiety. Where am I going? What will I be doing? Will I be OK? What will it be like? You have lots of questions, but you feel helpless right now, waiting for others to decide your fate.
This is just the time to fight those feelings with a more proactive approach to what happens next.
How do you do that?
- Take stock of your likely options. This is a good time to start a spreadsheet listing all of the colleges you have applied for. Start a column with a rating, say 1 to 5, which captures your estimate of your chances of admission. Don’t sell yourself short, but be realistic. This will help you balance your feelings and calibrate them to reality. You can add other variables as you go.
- Talk to your parent/s about traveling to colleges that have admitted you. You have probably done this already, but working on the details, from directions to accommodations, can help you feel more in charge.
- Map out what you will do this summer. Your life might seem on hold right now, suspended in time. If you can see to the other side, and imagine or plan what a great summer might look like, that can help the clock restart. Plan to do something really provocative and interesting, something that might ignite a new interest or course of study. This doesn’t have to be expensive, like a trip to Italy, but could mean a volunteer position or a road trip with a favorite aunt.
- Most important: dig deeper into the colleges you’ll be deciding among.
This last one needs a lot of thought. Let’s say that you get into four colleges, and that’s terrific. But how do you choose among them? You’ll get a lot of advice on this, but the best I can give is to dig deeper into the experience that awaits you there. Do not stay focused on variables that may have powered your initial list, from the size to the location to the reputation. These are important, of course, but they have little effect on your day-to-day academic experience. So answer these questions, simply by going online or giving a call to each academic advising office:
- How is the curriculum structured? You’re going to college primarily to take classes, so how are they organized? Are there courses you have to take? How much freedom will you have?
- Who are the faculty? Let’s say you’re interested in Political Science. Not every department is the same, of course, because they have different people in them. Who are they? What do they specialize in? Are they studying things that look interesting to you?
- What are the academic programs? Colleges try to offer an interesting mix of programs outside of courses, but what are they? Some offer a January term, so what does that look like? Others have evening seminars, “brown bag” lunch discussions, teas at the dean’s house.
- What are the support services? Academic advising is a critical service, but colleges devote different resources to this and structure it differently. Would you rather get advice as a freshman from a faculty member or a professional advisor? The former knows her department, and that’s either limiting or exciting, the latter offers a wider perspective.
You put a lot of effort into taking tests, getting good grades, and completing applications. Rather than waiting around right now, use that same work ethic to dig deeper into what lies ahead. And your ultimate choice will be a better fit. Good luck!