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Selecting The Right College For You

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• Shruti Sehgal •

Decisions, decisions, decisions.
How I wish I could go by ‘Eenie, meenie, miney moe.’ Or flip a coin, pull a straw, or use a blindfold. So what mechanism to use for this life-altering decision: which college or university should I attend?
Unfortunately, decisions about school are slip-pery, and often require less obvious tactics.
So what’s the best approach? First and foremost: get in touch with yourself. You need to understand your individual requirements before you can find a college that would best fit you. Identify your preferences, habits, goals, needs and desires. Then, consider the academic, social and personal factors that may contribute to your college choices.
We’ve designed the following sections to make this process easier. If you stick to the guidelines, you should have no problem picking the right college for you.

Academic Factors
What areas of study interest you? Be as specific as possible – think of neuroscience or astrophysics rather than general sciences. Are there any particular majors or programmes you would like to pursue in college? Many schools have subjects that are unavailable elsewhere. For example, Columbia University offers a creative writing major, an option that is otherwise rare. So, you may want to pinpoint your interests to find the perfect institution. What kind of career might you have in the future? What type of environment would you like to participate in? Would you prefer a liberal arts college or a large research university? Today, many colleges have unique teaching strategies. Sarah Lawrence College evaluates term papers and tries to reduce the pressure of grades. Brown University does not have a core curriculum so that students can dabble in various fields. Hampshire College employs interdisciplinary courses rather than traditional academic departments. Think about your learning style and consider the multitude of alternative choices available to you.

Social Factors
What organisations or clubs would you like to join in college? Many schools offer a variety of extra-curricular activities: sports, magazines, newspapers, ensembles, dance groups, student governments, the list goes on. Identify your favorite past-times so that you can continue to pursue them in college. Of course, new activities are always an option. Many colleges offer unique organisations: U-Mass Amherst has a Quidditch club, and Harvard offers a Stem Cell society. College is a time to experiment with new options – so consider interests you might like to develop.
Are you intrigued by Greek life? Many schools have fraternities and sororities that you might want to par-ticipate in. What resources would you like to have access to? Do you want a large, comprehensive gymnasium to work out in? Does a profes-sional black theatre box appeal to you? What kind of social sphere would you like to join outside of school? Do you want to live in a fast-paced city? Do you prefer a low-key suburb or rural environment? What do you like to do in your free time? Do you want to visit museums, shopping malls, bars and restaurants? Do you prefer the countryside, natural landscapes and peaceful neighborhoods? Are you a beach or mountains person? Do you want all four seasons, or a consistently tropical weather? Remember, college is a holistic experience. You need to study but you would also have to socialise, explore and grow. Think about non-academic features that are important to you.

Personal Life
Finally, you might have other requirements, unique to your situation. Many students struggle with the cost of college. If you are in a similar predicament, think about your fiscal capabilities. What kind of college can your family afford to send you to? Are you able to gain scholarships or loans? Are you in need of financial aid? There are other criteria that may also be relevant to you. Do you want to stay close to home, or do you want to venture to a new area? Would you like to study abroad? The Seven Sister Colleges in the United States, including Wellesley and Smith, offer competitive degrees and programmes. How do you feel about attending a women’s college? Is diversity important to you? Would you like to attend a college with a large minority representation? Do you require specialised facilities or medical services? Do you want to hold a part-time job while in school? Is a community college a better option for you? These factors might seem trivial but they are not. You are an individual, like no other. The school you attend should be tailored to you specifically.
After you have explored your inner depths, find colleges that match your specific needs. You can use a school search engine, like this one: http://collegesearch.collegeboard.com/search/adv_typeofschool.jsp.
You can also purchase college guidebooks, meet with an admissions counsellor, and conduct online research. This process might sound daunting, but with the proper groundwork and honest self-examination, the college search should be easy and fun.
Best of luck with the selection process!

Article by Shruti Sehgal Contributed by ICON+ (www.icon-plus.com)