While most students usually know only a handful of colleges, there are actually nearly 4,000 institutions in this country. So relax: dozens of them can be right for you. And that's the most critical thing to remember as you go through this process. You will find many "right" colleges.
So how does one begin? First, of course, you need to assess yourself your goals, learning styles, preferences and so on.
Once you've done a "personal assessment," you can jump into the process by doing any number of fun things. Visiting colleges close to home is a great way to start sorting out what might be important to you in terms of college choice. It's often a good idea to start close to home. Visiting local colleges and universities can be an efficient and cost effective way to explore a range of places. Be sure to pay close attention to those things that most excite and those things that underwhelm.
There are some missteps you can make in adding colleges to your list. Don't add a college because the name impresses others or because the school is highly ranked. Rankings are not a valid way to evaluate quality.
Once you've honed your list to a manageable number, start cruising websites. Take the online tour. Read the student newspaper if you can. Check out courses in your preferred major. And don't forget to ask those you know and trust your teachers, coaches and counselors what they know about the colleges on your list.
Last but not least, once you've tightened your list even further, sign up to receive information from those colleges that interest you. That way you'll hear about open houses and other special opportunities. Colleges are eager to establish a relationship with you but they can do so only if they know how to contact you.
Kenyon encourages rigorous and civil discourse in its students and community. Our professors practice this in the classroom, where they are committed to giving students the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, challenge and learn. And our students demonstrate this through deeply engaging with their studies and their interests, as well as grappling with issues of social justice.
In regards to the admissions process, applicants can be assured that any discipline resulting from responsible civil action in response to school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere will not have a negative influence on their application to Kenyon.
This is not to say that Kenyon privileges activism over other activities that show student leadership. Being politically active, serving as captain of the track team or holding an office in student government provides you with deep and real knowledge and enables you to understand your strengths. And it is always exciting for admissions officers to meet 17-year-olds who can say that they have identified a passion in their lives and that they are committing themselves to something.
It seems that students today are encouraged to pursue as many extracurricular activities as possible. Sports, music, community service, summer internships, science research … the list goes on and on. They're all worthwhile. But when we read your application, we don't tally the total number of activities you've pursued over the years. Admission is based on quality, not quantity. Moreover, we're not looking for a specific activity or leadership position; there are no "winning" or "sure-fire" extracurriculars. We simply want to know what you are passionate about and how you spend your time outside of the classroom.
While the Common Application has been revised to include more space for activities, we are looking for the quality of your engagement in these activities. So, don't feel obligated to explain every single club and organization that you've joined, especially those you joined for only a short duration. If you have been in a leadership position and have significantly influenced the organization in some way, by all means tell us about your contributions. And remember that activities can include responsibilities beyond your school work, like holding part-time jobs and having family responsibilities.
Before the college brochures make their way into your house, I recommend asking yourself a series of questions to help you define the type of environment in which you will be most happy and do your best work.
Do you like the idea of being the smartest student in your class or being surrounded by really smart kids? Is it important to find a specific course of study or to have a wide range of options? Do you like the idea of meeting five new people a day or finding five people who will be your friends for life? Are you drawn to familiar people and places or are you excited by a new region, meeting students from across the nation and around the world? Do you prefer to work in a highly collaborative environment or are you energized by competition?
Knowing who you are provides a protective armor in a process that can be overwhelming. Not only are you inundated with communications from colleges, everyone you know has an opinion of what is a good college and what is not, and they feel very free to express it. And being able to say, “I’m the kind of person who…” is very empowering.
Time to take an old adage to heart: Know thyself. It's a good one to remember as you embark on the process of thinking about colleges. Don't begin your college search with rankings and reputations. Start with yourself: your priorities, preferences, and personal style. Take some time to do some informal assessing. Here's what we suggest:
Personal assessment. What aspects of high school have you enjoyed the most? How do you learn best? What are your passions, academic interests, favorite activities, career goals? What kinds of teachers inspire you? What kinds of people do you associate with and admire? How do you respond to people who think and act differently from you? How important are approval, rewards, and recognition to you? How do you respond to pressure, competition, or challenge? How much do you rely on direction, guidance, or advice from others? How much structure do you need?
Environmental assessment. Would you be happiest in a big or small college — and how do you define big and small? Are you more comfortable with lecture classes or discussion-based seminars? Would you prefer an urban, suburban, or rural area? Someplace close to home or far away? An array of core requirements or an open curriculum? Public, private, or religiously affiliated? Research oriented or teaching oriented? Exclusively undergraduate or multi-purposed? Coeducational or single sex? Liberal or conservative? Do you want to be surrounded by students who are academically curious, career driven, or socially-oriented?
Institutional assessment. Assess each institution in light of your priorities. Does the school have the majors and activities you're looking for? Does the student body match what you want in a college environment? Who teaches the classes, professors or teaching assistants? What about other features that may be important to you, like research opportunities or study abroad? What kind of financial aid is offered?
It's called the college search for a reason. It's a chance for you to look into yourself, then look for schools that match your interests and priorities. Embark on your journey of self-assessment now rather than waiting until senior year!