I actually transferred to Harvard, and that experience was very helpful in understanding how to choose a college. You don't find out about a place by taking the campus tour and doing those things, although visiting is imperative anyway. The campus tours tell you how many books are in the library and what famous people lived where, not what life will be like during one's 4 years in college. Visiting is good, but more importantly, try to talk to and understand the lives of real students. Talk widely and broadly, since no two people's experience is the same. Ask: What is their balance between extracurriculars and academics? How have they found their academic experience? What is their most and least favorite thing about their college experience? What are their regrets? .... Second, once you're at a college, whether your first choice dream school or your safety school, make the most of it! I was at NYU and hated it, mostly because I didn't give it a chance. It wasn't my first choice, and I wouldn't let myself enjoy it , and although I successfully transferred, it's not a route I'd recommend for all.
One very important thing to remember is that there is no one college that is right for everyone. Every student beginning on this journey is going to follow a different path, and that's ok. Some students will know exactly what they want to do with their lives, and will be able to decide accordingly by choosing a school that is particularly strong in that subject. Other students won't be so sure, and would most likely do best at a school with many options. This allows the student to determine their interests and decide what path they want to follow. Even for students who believe they know exactly what they want to do, it's still a good idea to choose a school that will provide alternate options. Very few people know at 17 or 18 years old what the rest of their life holds. Of course, there are other considerations. Take into account the surrounding area, the extracurricular activities offered, and certainly the atmosphere on campus. All your time isn't spent in the classroom, and the college experience consists of much more than an academic program. However, it all contributes to the educational experience.
Finding the right college is synonomous with finding the right people. People- your classmates- make the college experience. When you visit schools, of course talk to students, but also get their email addresses. Ask them to get you in contact with students involved in the kind of activities and majors you are interested in. Get in touch with multiple people from each college and ask yourself, "Are these the kind of people I want to go to school with?" You will be surrounded by them for four or more years. You want to be excited at the prospect of rooming with, having meals with, and running into them in the hallways. Once you're at college, branch out right away. It's great to have your freshman year roomate to eat those first few meals with, but continue meeting people well into freshman year, so you maximize your chances of finding people you will really bond with. Stay open that first year- and stray away from dating right away too- it almost guarantees you won't meet new people. Last thought: be proactive- don't wait until senior year to try something you've always wanted to. Do it NOW!
It is extremely important to visit multiple colleges and interact with the students who are currently attending the college in order to see in what place you would feel the most comfortable. Ask what resources the college has to offer, question students about their professors and their favorite class, figure out what they do for fun over the weekend and in their free time--this information will allow you to see how you would fit into the academic and social scene. College is all about trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone. However, I feel that honesty has allowed me to really make the most of my college experience. Your parents are the ones who have always been by your side, through the good and the bad, and no matter how far you are from them, they will always be your constant support. I tell my parents everything that I do in college, including going to parties and drinking, which allows my parents to be included in my decisions and to voice their concerns and/or give me advice. I can really enjoy myself because I know that I am not doing anything behind my parents' back.
I'd tell my high-school-senior self to be smart, but no, not just "smart" as she currently understands it. Like Wallace Shawn's character in 'The Princess Bride,' I've learned that the word "smart" (like "inconceivable") doesn't necessarily mean what I thought it meant. So I'd tell my high-school-senior self that smart means being attentive to quality over quantity—she doesn't have to be in every club, but instead, can devote herself to excelling in those that matter most to her. She doesn't have to take a leadership position every time one presents itself to be "successful"—she can invest her time meaningfully where it's most needed, where it most benefits those in need, and where there are the most opportunities for learning and growth. She doesn't have to bend over backwards to be the "smartest" according to the numbers, the test scores and the class ranks and the GPAs, so long as she's expanding her own knowledge and selfhood toward the attainment of her future goals through the experiences that she undertakes. "Smart," I'd tell my high-school-senior self, is all about the bigger picture.
I would encourage students to spend a great deal of time researching colleges before and during the application process. Students should make lists of their priorities in a college; for example, while dining hall quality might be seen as trivial to some, it might be important to others! If you like to research from actual books, the quality of the library system and its ease of use will be crucial. Also, don't underestimate the importance of a strong, caring network of peer and faculty advisors, as college is confusing and advisors can help you make decisions. Once at college, be sure to take advantage of unique opportunities your school or surroundings offer! If you go to college in Boston, check out the North End's Italian restaurants, rather than ordering in Domino's, for example. Also, on a related note, don't feel pressured to spend, spend, spend. Set a "fun budget." Maybe go out to eat weekly, and save up for that. Check out the flyers around campus to help you find fun, cheap things to do over the weekend. Going to concerts, plays, etc. can be a great way to find culture and friends!
I would say to really do your research. Although choosing to attend Harvard was the best decision I have ever made, I do believe that it is not the right school for everyone. I would recommend to first think about what your goals are and interests are, and then to research extensively which colleges will provide the best possible enviornment for facilitating and achieving those specified desires. Then, I would recommend visiting every single one of these schools. You should not only take a guided tour, but should also stay with a student overnight and attend a class or two to get a feel for the classroom, social, and living enviornments. Finally, rank these schools in the order of your favorites and apply to each of them (and many backup schools). Because there will be many impressive schools on the list, I would recommend spending the most time and effort on the schools that you would most like to attend. Then do a lot of praying and waiting! Last, don't let it get you down-it sucks for everyone, but you will be thrilled that you did all of this work when it all works out for you!
In my opinion, the most important piece of advice for both parents and students during the stressful college search is this: colleges are more alike than different. I go to any Ivy League college, but I can tell you that I have met people of equal intelligence and achievement that go to state or city colleges. The lesson that I have learned from these discoveries is that you get out of college what you put in. In other words, you may go to to Harvard or Yale, but if you don't take your studies seriously and you depend on the school's reputation rather than your own merit, your success will be limited at best. However, no matter what school you go to, if you put your all into your studies, you are bound to make the most of your college career, for all schools provide the essential building blocks that one needs to succeed (e.g. , qualified professors, a centered learning environment): some just have more money and resources. The key, though, is to realize that none of the trappings matter. What matters is the fact that you can obtain a great education anywhere, through your own efforts.
I know you think of college as the opportunity that will free you from petty adolescence and cookie-cutter education. You think of it as your ticket to new worlds. True, you will discover many things. You will rely upon yourself to the point that you will tire of the responsibility. You will learn things you always wanted to know, and things you didn?t even know you didn?t know. You will learn so much that you will feel overwhelmed, and the hardest part will not be studying for an Italian midterm. The hardest part will be realizing that so many decisions are up to you and you alone. College will have its ups and downs. Early on, establish a new family of true friends. Trust yourself; it?s easier to make friends in college. Sometimes you will feel like an adult. Sometimes you will feel like a baby. This is OK. Call home when you need to, but make your own decisions. Take a deep breath and embrace college life as one opportunity after another. Take yourself seriously out of respect for yourself, but don?t take yourself too seriously because you?ll miss the world going by.
It's actually really hard to follow your gut instinct. I like to think that it is possible to have more than one best fit. It's really hard to make the "right decision" after just a few sit-ins at lectures or even spending a few days on campus. Initially, I think that it's best to narrow down colleges to the top 2 to 4 choices based on gut instinct. Which colleges did you really like and could you see yourself attending and fitting into nicely? Then from those 2 to 4 colleges I would create a list of priorities and rank each college in each category. The highest score at the end wins. For me I looked at financial cost, availability of desired classes/ majors, environment, quality of on-campus housing, atmosphere, the quality of the classes, advising, vibe, etc. It was really difficult for me to make my final decision. When you think that two colleges are equally "the best" for you, pick whichever college ranks the top for your most important priority. You will probably do well at both. I also feel that a positive attitude is the most important quality for success and happiness.