Finding Your Place

Steps in the College Search

As you begin to investigate colleges and to think about what type of school might be a good “fit”, you should keep in mind that there will not be one perfect choice. There are a number of colleges where you will be able to find happiness and be able to fulfill your intellectual needs. It is imperative for you to spend some time thinking about the following issues so that you and your college counselor will be able to narrow down your list from the more than 2,400 4-year colleges and universities in the US and hundreds abroad, to fifteen or twenty that you will be able to investigate with some vigor:

Do you want a large university or a smaller liberal arts college? How important is class size to you? How important is knowing your teachers? Would you prefer to live in an intimate community where you might know most of your peers or would you prefer to live in a large community where you might have greater anonymity?

Do you find cities exciting or threatening? Do you think that rural settings feel inviting and majestic or stifling and boring? Would you like to have access to a city without being in one? Do you want a quintessential college campus or one that is more sprawling?

How important is it to you to stay close to home? Would it be exciting for you to spend four years of your life in a part of the country (or world) that is different from where you've been raised and educated?

Type of Study
Do you know already that you would like a career in engineering, medicine, law, business, or art? Do you want a broad education in the liberal arts?

Would you prefer an atmosphere that is deeply academic or one that is more career-oriented? Would you prefer an atmosphere where students are more traditional in dress and ideas or one where students are more progressive? How important is diversity to you? What kinds of diversity are important to you?

Campus Life
What clubs or organizations would you like to begin or continue in college? Would you like to participate in athletics? Would you like to participate in artistic endeavors? Is a Greek system a must?

Are you looking for particular courses (such as Chinese or Communications)? Is there anything that you know you do not want to take in college (such as math or a foreign language)?

How much of a factor is the cost and the availability of financial aid?

Entrance Requirements
How strong is your course load? What is your grade point average? What are your SAT scores?

The more open-minded you are at the onset of your college search, the more possibilities you will have. It is probably not a good idea to say to yourself that you will not go to a large university until you've visited a large university. It's not a good idea to say that you will not go to a college outside of the west until you've visited some schools outside of the west. The earlier you start your search, the more open-minded you can afford to be. You don't have to answer all of these questions right now. Merely ask yourself which of these considerations are important to you.

Before you begin your research, you need to be familiar with the terminology that you will find in the materials that you will likely be reading. The following list explains the types of institutions and programs frequently considered by CRMS students:

Liberal Arts College

A four-year institution which emphasizes a program of broad undergraduate education. While pre-professional training is frequently available in these institutions, they generally stress a wide foundation of classes in the arts, sciences, and humanities (i.e. Davidson College, Kenyon College, and Williams College).

An academic institution which grants undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of fields and supports professional schools that are not exclusively technological (i.e. medicine, law, or journalism). Universities are composed of a number of “schools” or “colleges,” and each encompasses a general field of study.

Engineering or Technological College
Independent professional school that provides four-year training programs in engineering and physical sciences. They are often known as “Institutes of Technology” or “Polytechnic Institutes” (i.e. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Military Academy
Federal military academies prepare students to become officers in the armed services. These institutions (West Point, Annapolis, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy and Kings Point) require recommendations and nominations by US Senators or US Representatives and require that a student commits to a number of years of military service after graduation. Other private or state-supported military colleges operate on an application basis (i.e. Virginia Military Institute, The Citadel) and do not have a military service commitment unless a student attended through an ROTC scholarship.

Professional School
A college offering specialized study in areas such as art, music, dance, photography, etc. (i.e. Savannah College of Art and Design, Juilliard, Brooks Institute of Photography).

There are no shortage of college related web sites that allow you to search for particular colleges that meet your interests and needs. The sites allow you to create a list of US colleges that meet your needs based on size, majors, location, etc. They also offer a convenient and fast way for you to get specific information about schools you are interested in, including academics, admission requirements and extracurricular activities.

All CRMS students have access to Family Connection, a college information website that is used to track all college applications for students. All students have a unique login and password. One very important function of this website is its ability to help predict chances of admission at any college of interest to you through a tool called "scattergrams." Scattergrams graphically depict the GPA's, SAT scores, and admission experience of CRMS students at hundreds of different colleges over the past years. Students can check their GPA and SAT scores against those previous students from CRMS who applied to a particular college and thereby estimate the likelihood of gaining admission to this college.

Prospective College List
During the winter of your junior year, you and your counselor will develop your preliminary list of colleges. This initial list will give you a good foundation from which to build. When your junior year is almost over, we will have your SAT/ ACT scores and grade point average in hand and you will have looked at a number of colleges and universities. At this point, we will be able to refine your Prospective College List. Included with this list is a column called “Expect”. This is where your counselor will select one of four “expect” designations. “Far Reach” indicates a college that is highly competitive and statistically very selective. “Reach” designates a college that is also quite selective and for which it is difficult to predict what the final decision will be. “Possible” means the odds of admission are "reasonable", and indicates colleges that match your profile fairly evenly. While the chances of acceptance may seem reasonably good, there is no guarantee of admittance. "Likely" denotes colleges where the student has a high likelihood of being admitted. It is vital to have a final list that covers all of the bases, and choosing your "back-ups" must be given just as much consideration as the other colleges on yours final list.

Always bear in mind that this list is not a precise science. The range of actual competitiveness in the admission process will vary. Moreover, the college admissions process may change notably from one year to the next—since we must make these projections based on the previous year's cycle what actually happens may very well turn out quite differently when application pools are finally determined later in the year. It is for that reason that a final application list will be conservative in its projection and will represent colleges that cover the range from “Far Reach” to “Likely.” Our goal in assigning an “expectation” is to give you a realistic picture of how competitive each college has historically been in admissions for students from CRMS; our goal is not to render an admissions decision.

Write to Colleges
Having spent time investigating a number of colleges, go ahead and write requesting admissions materials. Contacting them (either by postal mail or e-mail) will get you on their radar screen and show them that you have a genuine interest in their institutions. Make sure that you proofread any inquiry carefully as you always want to put your best foot forward when communicating with colleges.

You will begin to receive numerous publications produced by college admissions offices to make their campuses look impressive, exciting, and stimulating. Generally, you will not be able to find out much from these books, as they are part of slick marketing strategies. Instead, you should request copies of the course catalogues, which describes the college's academic and non-academic programs in greater detail. Colleges are sometimes reluctant to send these catalogues because of mailing costs, but you can usually find them in the resource room, on the college's web site, or when you make a visit to the college. The catalogue will help you make more meaningful comparisons about course offerings, areas of expertise, AP credits, etc.

Some Important Considerations
1. Spend as much time thinking about your likely colleges as you spend thinking about your competitive colleges:   Many students spend far too much time dreaming about the top-tiered schools that they hope to attend and only minutes thinking about their “likely” institutions. While the college where you are “likely” to be admitted may not have the prestige or name-recognition that you covet, you should be sure that it has what you are looking for and is an institution where you will be able to find happiness and success. If your “reach” choices are small, liberal arts colleges, then you should spend time finding “likely” schools that fit the same profile. Occasionally students pick a large state university as their back-up and then are shocked to find out they are going to a college they are not excited about. Furthermore, many state universities have become extremely competitive both for in-state and out-of-state applicants.

2. A greater chance of admission at a college does not mean that the college's programs are of a lesser quality:   The selectivity of an institution is dependent on the size of its applicant pool, which may be affected as much by geographic location, popularity, rankings, and reputation as by academic quality. A college in New England may have a greater history than one in Iowa, and in turn, be more difficult to gain entrance into, but the college in Iowa may offer programs and professors just as strong or stronger. Many colleges today are far more difficult to get into than they were five or even three years ago, but it does not follow that those institutions are “better” than they were five years ago.

3. Don't limit yourself because of region:   Some students’ feel that they have to go to college in the west or that the best colleges in the country are in the northeast. Such a regional approach can, in many instances, limit your ability to gain admission to the quality college you desire. There are excellent colleges throughout the country, and — in many cases — applying from out of region can make you a more unique and attractive candidate. To a college in Minnesota, a student from Virginia is more interesting than another student from Minnesota, even though those two students might have similar profiles.

4. The name on your college diploma will not get you into, or keep you out of, graduate school:
You cannot get into any medical school with a C average from Yale, but you can with an A average (and good Medical Aptitude Test scores) from any number of smaller, lesser-known colleges. What counts most is your performance at the college you attend, and how well you take advantage of the opportunities afforded you.

5. Beware of publications that attempt to rank or compare colleges:   Students need to make their own decisions and a subjective magazine or a guide will never be able to include your personal needs in its rankings. Remember, statistics can be skewed however the publication chooses.

6. SAT scores are not the determining factor in the “expect” designation on your prospective college list:   When you speak with admissions officers, they will tell you that SAT scores are not the most important criteria, but they a factor. Many schools are now test optional. The most important criteria are the courses you are taking and the grades you achieve. The worst scenario for a student is to have high SAT scores and low or mediocre grades — this situation tends to signal an underachiever. The Prospective Colleges list takes all of this into account, but (again) is not a precise science.

7. Don't pick a college primarily on the basis of your anticipated major :  
Most colleges don't have students declare a major until the end of their second year because very few eighteen-year-olds are prepared to make that decision. For this reason, you should not pick a college solely because you've heard a particular department is good and you think you might major in that field — you're very likely to change your mind and then you're stuck. Instead, you want to pick a college that has an atmosphere and philosophy with which you'll feel comfortable; with that in mind you'll find happiness and success no matter what you intend to major in.

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