Creating a List of Colleges

Prestige is Not a Synonym for Fit: Beyond the Rankings

It's not where you go, it's what you do when you get there. Over at Teen Life, we're talking getting beyond the rankings to find schools that are the right fit -- and what you'll do when you get there. Check out Why You Should Look Beyond College Rankings...  Thanks for having us, Randi Mazzella!


Juniors: Check out a College Fair

Juniors should be knee deep in creating an initial list of colleges. Here's another tool for your research arsenal -- college fairs. At college fairs, admission representatives or alumni are present to answer questions and pass out brochures and other information to students and their families. These events are a great starting point to learn more about a wide range of schools or to get to know one of the colleges on your list more deeply.  

Since these events can be crowded and chaotic, an action plan can help ensure that you get the most out of the experience. Here are our suggestions:

        *    Obtain a list of the participating colleges online or from your college counselor in advance of the fair and determine which schools’ booths you will want to visit.

        *    Do some homework. Check out the websites of the schools you want to visit and prepare a list of questions after you’ve done some research.

        *     While you're collecting brochures from colleges in which you may be interested, also pick up the business card of the school's representative.     They could be a good contact point for further information.

        *     Do not bring a resume. Schools are not interested in a resume from you at this point.

        *     College fairs sometimes include information sessions on subjects such as financial aid or the search process, so plan accordingly if you want to attend.

This Week's Advice for Juniors: Sleep In and Eat Pie!

Juniors, our advice for this week is to sleep in and eat pie. This is a time for relaxing with family and friends. We do have a couple of suggestions, though. If you're visiting family near a college in which you might be interested, consider taking a drive through the nearby campus. The admission office will likely be closed, but it's still a great time to walk through the grounds.  And if you have a chance to visit with any of last year's seniors who are returning from their first few months at college, take the time to ask them about their application experience. What they wish they had known or had done differently or maybe what mattered most for them in selecting and choosing a college. Other than that, stick with the program of football, pie, family and sleeping in.

What is it "practical" to study in college? You'd be surprised!

For many parents and students, the most-lucrative path seems obvious: be practical. The public and private sectors are urging kids to abandon the liberal arts, and study fields where the job market is hot right now.

Dr. Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School and Professor of Education, has some very good, "practical" advice for students and their families in a recent Wall Street Journal article -- Why Focusing Too Narrowly in College Could Backfire.

Here's an excerpt:

Schools, in turn, are responding with new, specialized courses that promise to teach skills that students will need on the job. A degree in hospital financing? Casino management? Pharmaceutical marketing?

Little wonder that business majors outnumber liberal-arts majors in the U.S. by two-to-one, and the trend is for even more focused programs targeted to niches in the labor market.

How Many Colleges Should Students Apply To?

Today we kick off a new feature here on the blog: "The Question of the Month." We'll be asking high school college counselors, independent counselors, deans of admission and other experts, such as financial aid officers and psychologists, to respond to our questions about all things college admission. Then we'll bring you their advice on the subject of the moment -- from essays and scholarships to interviews and extracurriculars -- including any words of wisdom on how to handle it all on a day to day basis. 

For October, we asked a group of counselors:


"How many colleges should students apply to?"


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, California


People sometimes approach the question of how many colleges they should apply to as if they are preparing for an emergency (e.g. how many extra batteries, water bottles, and matches might I need in case an earthquake hits?!).  The ideal number of colleges on a list really depends on each student’s situation, and each person’s balance of “safety/likely, target/match, and reach” will vary. However, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

Guess what, students? You're in Control!

John Carpenter is back this month with some thoughts about who is really in the driver's seat during the college application process. While it might feel like the college admission offices are steering, if you pay attention you'll see that students have the wheel much of the time. Read on and reevaluate what you've been feeling if things are feeling out of control.

One thing I hear constantly from high school kids over and over is that applying to college is stressful.  And psychologists tell us that stress comes from a feeling that we are not in control -- especially the big stuff.  Getting into college falls into the “big stuff” category. But students have more control in this whole process than they may realize. So, let’s analyze that.

The College List: Go Your Own Way

Will Dix is back this month with some illustrative advice for students working on the list of colleges to which they'll apply. Find out how to move off "standing out" and toward "standing up" as you decide where you will spend the next four years in "I'm The One That I Want!"


If you’re a high school senior, your interior monologue is probably going something like this right about now:

The "Tyranny of Choice": Confronting the Wall of Colleges

We are delighted to welcome Will Dix as a monthly guest blogger. A former teacher and Amherst associate dean of admission, Dix is now Program Director at Chicago Scholars. Today, Will has some advice for students and parents as they contemplate the many -- too many? -- great options students have when choosing colleges.  And cautions against seeking just one to be your "Emerald City."


Once in a while at the grocery store I’m flummoxed by the varieties of toothpaste to choose from as I try to figure out which one is the best for me. Breath-freshening, whitening, plaque fighting, striped, mouthwash-containing? What do I really need? How are my gums this week? Should I get the whitening one even though it doesn’t have the mouthwash? What size? What brand? What permutation will give me perfect teeth? I start to feel queasy, realizing that any choice I make probably won’t be adequate, but also knowing that, really, it doesn’t matter: all toothpaste has fluoride, all of it will clean my teeth, and whether it’s minty cinnamon or cinnamon-y mint, it’s pretty much the same.


Who graduates from college on time -- that is, in 4 years?

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released this week shows that only half of first-time college students graduate in 6 years. As Catherine Rampell of the New York Times' Economix blog writes, "As we’ve covered here many times before, there is an abundance of evidence showing that going to college is worth it. But that’s really only true if you go to college and then graduate…" In a follow-up post, Rampell looks more closely at the completition rates and the reasons that students aren't finishing their programs on time.

What a Bug Can Teach You about Colleges


Today's column is from John Carpenter, author of  Going Geek: What Every Smart Kid (and Every Smart Parent) Should Know About College Admissions. Read on to learn what mustachioed caterpillars can teach you about finding a great college.


Many people know that I’ve been living in Costa Rica for the last year, and that I work at an amazing school with people from 65 different countries.  Sometimes I can’t believe how cool things are here.

The campus is home to some incredible bio-diversity.  There are more trees, flowers, and plants than I’ve ever seen.  Most days I just walk right by them and don’t really pay much attention to the huge variety of growing things around me.  But I’m beginning to learn that there’s more to a bunch of leaves than I thought.

About a month ago, our new teachers arrived on campus, and one of them is this very cool guy called Isaac.  He’s a Wesleyan grad, and he’s really smart--a geek who loves biology.  What sets him apart is that he will stop to look at any random plant on campus and instantly find very cool stuff living on it.  He caught a giant moth, for example, just to see how long its tongue was.