How to Choose a College? A high school scientette’s guide to becoming a college Scientista!
March 02,2012 By Amy Prager
Some of the most difficult choices that high school seniors, and potentially even juniors have, are their choices of college and major. To some, the process seems straightforward; they want to go to the “best” college they can get into. But, then the question becomes, how to define the best? Is it by the US News and World Report rankings (and it most definitely shouldn’t be, for reasons that I will discuss in this article), or average SAT and/or GPA scores of admitted applicants? Is it by percent admitted? Is it simply because it is an Ivy(show of hands...how many of you in the audience were thinking of this criteria yourselves?) Have no idea? Read on!
1. Consider the range of majors that are offered. High school students do not really realize that the choice of major and choice of college are highly interrelated. Indeed, one of the things that make the more selective and prestigious colleges so highly desirable is their much wider choice of possible majors and programs. For example, when Marisa Meyer of Google fame was choosing a major, she has been widely quoted as saying that most majors were available at much less expensive schools, so she chose “Symbolic Systems””, a course of study that can uniquely be pursued at Stanford. The most desirable colleges often got the reputation that they have because they offer opportunities that are, quite literally, unavailable at lesser known schools.
2. Do not limit or overextend yourself.
In this way, we see that your decision of which schools to consider, apply to, and ultimately attend, have a direct effect on what you will have the opportunity to study. Do not unintentionally limit yourself for many years to come by not choosing your college selection carefully enough! And, what may be even worse, do not attempt to solve this problem by applying to too many colleges. As a high school senior, you will have, perhaps for the first time, courses that require a significant time outlay outside of class. Many students intending to go on to selective colleges enroll in AP courses during their senior year, at the exact same time that they must also take the SAT, go on college interviews and perhaps visits(these are quite important, actually) and write the all important college essays. Perhaps you even like spending time with friends and participating in extracurricular activities as well, and maybe going on the internet too! All of these things take valuable time away from the sum total of time that one has available to write ALL of your college essays, which frequently are largely different for each school that you are applying to. Therefore, as you can see, applying to too many colleges can dramatically decrease your chances at getting into any of them.
3. Do not choose solely based on some “expert’s” ranking. In recent years, and especially in the current era of widespread internet usage, rankings according to some authority such as US News and World Report have been treated as gospel by many students, who simply decide that they wish to apply to X colleges and apply to rankings 1-X on some “authority”’s list. This is a very bad idea. No one school can excel in all areas, and even excellent departments within excellent schools cannot excel at all subareas. All schools have limited resources, despite extremely expensive tuitions, and most schools try to concentrate their limited resources in their areas of greatest strength, whether technology, arts, medicine, or whatever the case may be. A far better use of the rankings would be to go to the subject specific rankings and use those as a guide. For example, these can be found on the US News and World Report site under “graduate schools.”
Amy Prager I AMA math education student at Columbia pursuing technical coursework at Princeton. My research and career focuses on outreach programs designed to encourage girls to pursue STEM majors and careers.