What To Consider When Applying To Colleges


College is a big step toward your future so it is important to consider all the factors when choosing the college that is right for you.

As much as we want to, it is impossible to plan out our entire life. Everything around us is constantly changing; however, we are able to “control the controllable.” With good research, we can determine things like where we’ll be next year, what we want to study, and how much crippling student debt we want to be in for the rest of our lives.


That’s right, I’m talking about college applications. You know them, you probably hate them, and chances are you’re sick of hearing about them. But, considering it’s your impending future, you’re bound to hear more about it. Besides, it’s always possible to learn more. People dedicate their entire lives to professions like college counseling and SATtutoring, while high schoolers are only in the game for a couple of years. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, but we must remain calm in order to properly prepare. So, to get to that recommended 8-12 college range, juniors and seniors must be prepared to research everything from academics, food, and how cold it can get during Winter in Boston (the record is -18 degrees Fahrenheit). 


To start, the main reason behind attending college is supposed to be to further one’s education. The first step when evaluating any school is looking at the program you wish to attend from all angles. What do the graduated students end up doing? Are the professors not only knowledgeable but good teachers? Information like this should be available on the college’s website, or for a more honest review, the general internet. To go a step further, you can even see the required classes for certain majors. While this step will require lengthy, tedious research, it’s important to read honest reviews so you know what you’re getting yourself into. One helpful website is Niche, an informational website focused on post-secondary education. While researching, don’t be afraid to ask alumni or admissions counselors about a specific program. 


Also, by searching the name of a college on Instagram or any website where people are not being paid to write reviews, you are guaranteed to get insight on multiple perspectives of the school. Of course, not everything on the internet can be trusted, but this can be a good way to see what the people and everyday life there is like. 


When looking through websites, understand that many people are spreading false information or are being paid to promote some colleges more than others. Even the US News college ranking list has had incidents of cheating and misinformation. “Columbia’s No. 2 status was not questioned until one of its own math professors, Michael Thaddeus, in a February blog post, accused the school of submitting statistics that were ‘inaccurate, dubious or highly misleading’,” (Hartocollis, paragraph 3). What we as students should take away from this is that rankings aren’t everything, and should be used only to generate ideas rather than make final decisions. Be sure to take advantage of websites such as College Board, Naviance, and College Confidential.


With these resources, factors such as distance, dorms, and location must also be taken into consideration. Sure, Florida’s summer heat may not seem like a big deal now, but will it be when you have to spend hours walking across campus next year? Also, a school might have an excellent program for your major, but that means having to live five hours away from home in rural Pennsylvania. Going to school far away does have its benefits, such as independence, being able to meet new people, and getting to live in a state that isn’t New Jersey for once. Just make sure that you are ready to handle the distance as well as the different weather and environment. 


Perhaps the biggest concern with college is the cost. Even if everything about the school is perfect, it is simply not worth a lifetime of debt. The tricky part is that it’s impossible to tell how much financial aid you will receive until after you’ve applied, but fear not; by applying to colleges that have given financial aid in the past, we can minimize the risk of disappointment in May. Additionally, there are plenty of quality public schools in New Jersey that us residents are able to get a discount on thanks to in-state tuition. Since public schools receive money from the government, their tuition tends to be less expensive. However, private schools usually offer more scholarship money to encourage students to attend. On Naviance, there is a filter within their supermatch college search that allows the user to only see schools that meet 100% of need-based aid. It also shows the average net price for many colleges after aid, which can help predict the amount you will end up paying should you choose to attend that school. Another way to reduce the cost is by applying for scholarships, through local organizations and businesses. While creating your list of schools now, just be sure that the average net price for your income range is realistic, so you don’t end up wasting time.


Finally, unless you want to be miserable in May with only a few options, your college list needs to have varying acceptance difficulties. In many college-ranking websites, a lower acceptance rate means a higher ranking on the list. So, top colleges looking to appear even more prestigious send many brochures, social media ads, and emails to students encouraging them to attend. The more applications, the better they look. Save yourself the eighty-dollar application fee: they don’t actually want you. It’s good to have reaches, but only with an equal amount of target and safety schools to balance the list out. 


No single piece of information should make or break a school for you. Ultimately, all of the research should come together to paint a picture of the entire school, filling in the gaps in your knowledge and helping you make your final decisions. Most importantly, when you find yourself drowning in Common App work, remember that in just a few months we will be high school graduates off to better things.


Caption: College is a big step towards your future so it is important to consider all the factors when choosing the college that is right for you.