How to apply to colleges where you will thrive

You know the colleges that have been branded in your brain since you were little. Or the ones on bumper stickers. Or the ones your cousin went to that you’re always reminded of on holidays. College has become a brand. A rite of passage. So if you’re a senior trying to decide on where to apply and leaning on all those colleges you’ve heard were “good,” here is where you begin.

Where you go matters. But not in the way you think. Not because of it’s prestige or brand, but what’s inside. When you peel back the shiny gates and take a look inside the campus, what do you find? The heart of success lies in the experiences you will have throughout your four years. This means, your internships, professors, classroom experiences, thriving within an area of study and the networking you make while in college are all examples of what matters. It also matters how much debt you walk away with upon graduation. It’s called return on investment.

You are about to invest in an experience that will grant you a degree and build momentum into a new trajectory of your life. Feels a bit daunting, huh? But here’s the thing, most people approach is completely wrong. Here are some tips to think about researching colleges in your favor. So you can graduate knowing you’ve positioned yourself in an institution that will support, challenge and enhance you over the next four years.

Alumni network and career services

  • What services does the career center provide? Any specific services important to you? Like pre-med advising? Or local internships, co-ops, research experiences, etc.
  • Look for key ways a college will provide opportunities for you to build your resume and stand out WHILE you’re in college. Not just the strength of their alumni network, but what do they do for you while you’re there.
  • Check out sites like LinkedIn and see local alumni within your field of interest and in different areas.
  • Look at employment statistics of alumni and within the area you plan on studying. What are the graduates doing?

Specialty programs within the greater university

  • Honors programs, smaller specialty programs within a larger university can help you stand out and provide more scholarship opportunities. If you’re GPA is higher than the average admitted, chances are there may be an honors or scholars program getting you more cash for college and experiences like research with professors early on. Standing out and building your resume.
  • Advising. Look for advising within your major and also anything else like extra tutoring, pre-professional advising, etc.

Learning style and ethos of the university

  • For one of the first times ever, you have the ability to choose a college that values learning like you do. Think about classroom style, delivery of curriculum, how the professors teach, what research or projects does the university value, etc. If you can find a classroom that enhances your learning style and support it, you’ll increases your chances to succeed.
  • The ethos of a university lies in things like their mission statement and what initiatives they support. If you value sustainability or making your world a greater place, does your college value that as well? Look up the mission statement, find out current events and affairs they’re involved in and see if anything gets you excited.

Social environment and surrounding community

  • Choosing a college that you feel socially comfortable and with peers that will challenge, but accept you is incredibly important. You can be at a top ranked college, but if you feel completely out of place and can’t find your groove, think about how many experiences you might pass up.
  • Search sites like Unigo or CollegXpress and get to know the campus community. Also check out the greater community around the college. You can find everything like things to do, places to see as well as internship opportunities in the local area.

Set yourself up in a quiet space and get lost in some research. Because college is coming, and now is the time where you decide how to drive your search.

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