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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/ 7/2010

College admissions strategies: Don't listen to friends, and more

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Angel B. Perez, director of admission at Pitzer College and an instructor for UCLA’s College Counseling Certification Program.

By Angel B. Perez
I often ask high school juniors and seniors what is most frustrating about starting the college admission search process.

"I don’t know where to begin," they often respond - "and, everyone in my life wants to tell me what college is best for me!"

Not knowing where to begin and getting conflicting messages are two of the biggest challenges of starting the college search. At the risk of being another one of those people who offers up advice, I’d like to share a few strategies that successful students have told me worked for them:

1. Take Time for Reflection
This is one of the few times in your life when you are going to have the opportunity to sit down and really think about who you are and more importantly, who you want to become.

What are some of the things you most care about? What kinds of activities do you most enjoy? What is your learning style and in what setting do you learn best? What are some of the things you are most curious about? Where do your passions lie? As you think of these, write down your thoughts.

You will find that as you do research, certain colleges will match your needs more than others.

2. Be Open Minded
I can guarantee you that there are schools that would be the perfect fit for you, but you’ve never heard of them! The school that many students end up at may not have been their "dream school" at the start. But once they research it, they realize it’s the school for them.

Unfortunately, we live in what I like to call a "bumper sticker society." Everyone chooses a college according to what name makes the most attractive bumper sticker, one they can display with pride. There are close to 4,000 institutions of higher education in this country, and I guarantee you there is more than one school for you. Take the time to do the research, and when a college counselor, Web site, or search engine suggests a school, keep an open mind.

3. Step Foot On Campus
Would you ever buy a house without visiting it? Would you buy a car without test-driving it? You could, but it's not a safe bet.

Remember that all college brochures, Web sites, and promotional videos will be attractive. These are good tools to start with, but how do you find out what the school is really like? Visiting schools is the best way to learn whether or not it is a good fit for you.

Take the official tours (admissions officers like to know when you are on campus), but also talk to students and hang out in the student center. Pick up the campus newspaper and read about the issues students are writing about. It will give you a sense of what students care about. There is a feeling you get when you physically walk onto a college campus. You know then and there - this is it, or you want to run in the other direction. Either reaction is fine. That’s the whole point of the visit.

4. Do Not Listen To Your Friends
Every student is different and has individual needs. One of the worst ways to make a decision about where to go to college is to follow a friend because he or she is having a good time at that school.

Every year I hear students talking about schools that are "hot." These are trends. Don’t choose a school because your friends think it’s a fun place. Becoming an adult means making your own decisions based on what is right for you, despite what others think.

5. Have Fun
Most students don’t realize that looking for a college should be fun. Thinking about where you will spend the next stage of your life can be truly invigorating and exciting. If you start this process early and don’t wait until two weeks before applications are due, you can truly enjoy looking for your school.

Plan road trips to see colleges, visit local college fairs, spend time on social networking sites learning about schools (they all Facebook, Twitter, etc), and feel free to ask admissions officers to connect you with college students on campus if you have questions. It’s meant to be fun and exciting. Make it so!


Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | March 7, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The link between counselors and kids going to college
Next: Virginia colleges: Just say 'no' to Cuccinelli


Typical over generalized advice with no useful purpose.

Posted by: ericpollock | March 7, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

As an educational consultant, I think these are five very good things for students to keep in mind when they begin their college search. Since I work with high school students everyday, I believe that the reflection part can get the ball rolling. When students are honest about the ways they learn and the personalities they have, some schools will immediately become obvious. The college search is a very exciting process and one that can be a tremendous growing experience for a student.

Susie Watts
College Direction

Posted by: collegedirection | March 8, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

I have found a great series of articles written by a Mom of 4 college kids.. she has some wonderful and useful advice on so many topics that are gleaned from first hand experience.. worth a read:

Posted by: amy3e | March 8, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

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