Before you apply, you first must know where you plan on applying to. While this might sound easy enough, most students and parents find themselves lost. With over 4,700 degree-granting colleges, it’s no wonder why so many of us feel overwhelmed and often resort to what we know best: local and brand name schools.
However, UCs and Ivy League schools aren’t the only options — and often times, they aren’t even the best options. My brother who attended UC Berkeley, for example, said he hated the workaholic culture there, and my friend who attended Princeton said he felt isolated for 3 years after having been looked down upon by the privileged cliques that composed most of the student body. When thinking about college selection, rankings fall second in priority to fitment, or finding a learning environment that will foster the growth of a unique student. After all, a student is about to invest 4-6 years of his or her life into a single location. Nevermind the ranking or the price; that student better be happy during his or her time there!
Thankfully, the U.S. is filled to the brim with elite colleges. In fact, if you take the top 5% of universities, that would amount to 150 top-tier schools. That means outside of West and East Coast “Ivy Leagues”, there are 130 other amazing colleges that you probably haven’t heard about or aren’t taking seriously enough. After all, Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs went to Reed College in the middle of no where, and tied for producing as many CEOs as Yale was a Southern Methodist University.
Using a combination of Google, US News, and/or the Fiske Guide to Colleges, you can quickly research schools you know and others you should know about. Here are the three major criteria I run my students through to find the right schools for them:
Major Strength & Flexibility
Colleges you apply to should have reputable programs in the areas you are most interested in. And that’s areas with an “s”. If you are a Biology major, don’t just look for schools that are strong there. As mentioned in my other post, chances are you’ll change your major so make sure your target colleges have strong programs in every area that you might end up studying — and potentially working in.
Large, small, or something in between? Before you decide, make sure you know what each is about. Large schools offer unmatched diversity and breadth in the student body, but get a bad rap about “being just a number.” The truth is the teachers and job opportunities are there for you; you just have to go get it. On the other end, of course, are small schools. Beyond the intimate relationships you form with a smaller student and instructor body, your access to your person 2-3 counselors ensure access to opportunities. That said, small schools get a bad rap for “being in the middle of no where” — which simply is not always true. Lastly, you have mid-sized colleges, which offer the best of both worlds.
Just like NYU is located in the heart of the city, small schools are also located in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. If urban environments seem like your cup of tea, then prioritize schools that are in a big city. Otherwise, you might prefer a quieter environment located in a suburb or a rural town. Note that such environments might indeed be in the middle of no where, but some of these colleges are just 20-30 minutes away from the city. Lastly, a school’s proximity to a specific industry, like tech or medicine, should also be taken into consideration. If you are interested in going into tech, there are surely more jobs available in San Francisco as compared to Ithaca.
By prioritizing the above criteria and stating preferences for each, your college search will be deliberate and efficient. Feel free to contact us if you need more personalized help or questions.