The new year marks new beginnings and January is when the Class of 2010 begins the college process. Although, at this point, it might seem like there is more than enough time to do all that a successful application entails, starting early and in earnest will set the course for a successful and less stressful experience. Here are a few suggestions to get the things started: With 3,000 schools to choose from, the college process can seem overwhelming. To get a sense of what options are available take tours of several local campuses not in an effort to find the "right college," but to find the "right type of college." After a few visits it will be clear that almost all colleges allow students to study abroad, have faculty advisors, offer peer tutoring and have a variety of housing options. Once the common threads are identified, it will be easier to focus on how schools differentiate themselves.
To do that, visit area colleges of several different sizes, types and locations to gain a sense of the variety of options. Few juniors actually know what a school of 7,000 students really feels like when they say they want a medium-sized university. Because of their numbers, large universities and small colleges have different resources and opportunities available to students. The trade off for the vast opportunities at big schools is the intimate setting at small schools and students need to consider where they would thrive.
Also, visit a campus located in the heart of a city as well as one in the suburbs to understand how location might influence the college experience. While opportunities for internships, cultural events and night life abound in the city, for some the opportunities of a smaller college are easier to navigate.
Further, visit several different types of schools: engineering colleges, business schools, liberal arts colleges and public universities. This can help students clarify if they want to live and breathe their major - as they will at pre-professional colleges - or if they want to explore their field of interest in the context of a broader liberal arts curriculum. Being an accounting major at Babson College is not the same thing as majoring in economics at Wheaton College.
It is also important to build a college vocabulary. Tour guides will talk glibly about 4-4-1 versus 4-1-4 calendars, interim programs, and co-op experiences. These are some of the opportunities that vary from college to college and are features that distinguish the academic program at one school from the next. Learning what these programs offer will help to define the criteria for schools that will ultimately be the right fit.
Take advantage of upcoming vacation days to visit a few schools to get a broad understanding of the various options. Don't worry about the particular location, selectivity or "perfectness" of these schools - instead make the point of these visits to get a sense of what feels like the right type of school. The more precisely you can define what it is that you are seeking in a school, the more fruitful your search for the right school will be.
Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News.