Choosing a school

My friend RR has a list of grad schools she wants to apply to. At least I hope she does. She asked me to help her narrow down that list. She asked me to tell her where to apply. Not knowing where you want to apply or knowing that you want to apply to twenty schools is an immensely frustrating situation. The feeling is that you may be missing out on some grand opportunity if you don't apply to ABC--an opportunity that could change your life OR that it's too much work to apply to all of the schools. College is a big decision. It is one of the bigger life decisions that you (and maybe your parents) will have to make. It's a good idea to sit down and think.

Factors to Consider From the Beginning

1. You will be spending four years there. You have to appreciate this fact, not just read it. Here's why: (If you haven't read the other posts about doing research about the school under interviews, please do because those things apply here too.) For example, if you find out that greek life is a huge part of the social life at Frathouse U. and this information came from a reliable source (i.e. a reputable guidebook, friends, siblings, your own eyes!), don't ignore this fact. In this particular "greek life" scenario, your life at Frathouse U. will be affected by the greek life on campus--whether you like it or not. It's a huge mistake to think that you are going to a particular school to study (or to be with your boyfriend) and that you can ignore the frats and sororities, that they will not affect your goal-oriented self. I've heard this from students I've interviewed. I went to a school where parties were lame and keggers were few. We liked to say, "the social life is what you make of it..." When I told a student this, she said, "Oh it doesn't matter. I will be here to study. I don't care if there isn't a social life." That's what she thinks now. For most of you, four years of college means that you will be spending at least six semesters on or near a campus (that's figuring 2 semesters abroad). You will be studying there, taking classes there, socializing there, eating there, blagh! You'll be there ALL the time. As much as college is an educational experience, it's also a social one. You will meet people that you like, love, and hate--maybe all at once. Most importantly, you are creating a social network that can help you after you graduate. Remember, you are going to college to get a job at some point in the future. Though sitting around and eating chips and watching Pretty Woman doesn't seem like networking for the future, it really is. Networking is the building of good relationships with people. Add some suits, cocktails, and business cards and you've got a professional networking event. Anyhow, it's important to remember that you will be part of the college community. Perhaps the better thing to say is that you want to be part of the college community. Back to the greeks, not that it isn't possible for you to become really into sorority life one day but you have to keep in mind the fact that you actually may never grow to like it. If you don't see yourself as being open-minded to such a large part of school culture or if you know that your learning style requires you to stay home on weekends, then Frat U. may not be the ideal place. You have a choice to be somewhere and hate everyone and everything there because you are uncomfortable in that environment or you can be somewhere that is pleasant for you. Also, think of college as a growing experience. College is often the place to figure out some personal boundaries and values. I know students don't like it when I ask during the interview who they would like to be in in four years but really it's an important question to ask yourself. Personally, I was not very confident in high school. It was important to me that wherever I went to college, it would have to be a place where I could work on building my confidence. That sounds so after-school special. I wanted to become more extroverted and I didn't want to go to a place where everyone was really extroverted already. I wanted to be somewhere with a community and a fair mix of introverted and extroverted people. I wanted the opportunity where I could join student government or try something like theatre without being a major. I imagine if I had been really confident in high school and fairly extroverted, I might have considered a large university without the fear of getting "lost in the crowd." My point is that you want to consider who you are and who you think you want to be because college and its environment can facilitate that. A story about this situation but you may skip and go to #2 if you're in a hurry: A friend's sister chose to go to a school in a rural part of the state. She grew up in a large city and went to a high school that had a lot of support for its students. She went to the school thinking she wanted to be with her boyfriend. She didn't check out the school. She figured she would have her boyfriend. They broke up second semester and she had made no friends. She found that the school was really cliquish and while there wasn't much greek life on campus, drinking and partying were a big part of campus life because there was nothing off campus except a lot of snow. Going to college, she was really shy and not really comfortable with confronting others with conflicts. Going to a huge school where she felt completely out of place and awkward, she has a hard time feeling like others want her to be part of the group. Just a point...

College costs money--Figure out how much or at least around how much...
College can be immensely expensive. Don't just look at the tuition listed in the catalog. While it's nice to know how much school will cost you on paper, there's more to know. Before introspection, look at more stats about the college or ask the financial aid officer. You should find out:
External Questions
-What % of students get financial aid?
-Of that financial aid, are those loans? Grants? Scholarships?
-For each type of aid, are there specific qualifications? Grades? Talent?
-If the financial aid is conditional on grades or sports--what happens if my grades fall below a certain point or if you decide to not play the sport anymore?
-For loans, are there special programs that the school offers that have lower interest rates?
-Are there recommended loan providers/unrecommended providers?
-How much is tuition itself?
-Are there additional fees? (sometimes "hidden" are student activity fees for gym, government, medical, computer lab, etc.) How much are they?
-Is there college provided health insurance? If so, what does it cover? If not, is there some sort of basic coverage on campus? How much?
-How much is room and board?
-Is work-study part of a loan package? Can students work first year? How many hours a week? For whom? If student opts out of work-study, can other funds be put in place in the package?
-How many credits are required to graduate? Do I pay for each credit or do you pay for semester? How does that all work?
-If I want to go abroad, who gets the tuition payments? Are they pro-rated if my abroad program costs less than tuition here?
-What is the average tuition increase every year?

Introspective Questions

The first step of introspection is to fill out FAFSA. When you fill out FAFSA, you will get a number back from the government that will tell you your expected family contribution. With this number you can speak with a financial aid officer who may be able to project your tuition for you and the package the college can offer to your college.

-Am I ( or my parents) willing to possibly be in significant debt after college for an education? How much can I afford? Do I have siblings that are also going to college? How much do I want to spend? State schools are a great, less-expensive alternative to schools that charge upwards of $30,000 a year for four years. If you are seriously considering going to grad school, college debt and grad school debt together can be more than $150,000.
-Is there a part-time program? These may be less expensive but less convenient and less common.
-Is the school "worth the money"? This is going to sound snotty but an Ivy League degree may arguably be "more valuable" than a degree from Random State University. I am in no way saying that your education will be inferior at Random State. In fact, you may get a superior education for a host of other reasons. However, the Ivy League name will definitely get you in more doors simply because of the ideas people have about people who go to Ivy League schools. So if the industry that you are interested in joining one day really cares about where you went, maybe it would be worth $45,000 a year to enroll at a particular school. Something to think about.

#3 Location! Location! Location! Where is this place? Do you want to be in a city? A suburb? A rural landscape? How to think about this? Where will you be comfortable? Where do you want to learn to be comfortable? Where do you want to be when you graduate? When you are in college you will want to do externships, internships, socialize, and maybe take a part-time job. If your life's dream is to work at a magazine, it will be physically easier to secure an internship at Conde Naste Publications if you are in New York City. If you want to be a vet specializing in animal husbandry one day, enrolling at a rural college in Vermont might serve your better. It's not impossible to work somewhere 100 miles away from where you go to college but it's can be easier to apply and interview if you're close by. Also, do you want to be close to home? Far from home?

Look, in the end, you can only apply to a finite number of colleges. If you apply to too few, you may be selling yourself short. If you apply to too many, you may be wearing yourself thin and not putting as much effort into each application as you could be. (More on that later) Your guidance counselor is right--apply to a few safety schools, a few reach/maybe schools, and maybe one or two dream schools. It can get expensive to apply to lots of schools. Fees can range from $30 to $60 per school. (Consider schools that are willing to forgo the fee if you donate a small amount to charity). Having read this, make a list of the things that are important to you and match them up to schools. It's possible! You need to take a few hours to do it but it needs to get done!

I think that those three things are important to remember. Of course, there are many other little things below the major headings but I hope that it helps to narrow down the list.


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