|4 College Search Pitfalls and Solutions
Written by: Annie Reznik
1. “I love Harvard.”
Far too many students fall into the “say yes to the sweatshirt” mentality when searching for a college. They find one that fits “perfectly” and commit. But, this is college: you aren’t searching for a significant other. And, truth be told, said University just might not be that into you. No one is “likely” to earn admission to Harvard University which admitted fewer than 10% of all applicants in each of the last five years.
Solution: Determine the desirable characteristics in your ideal school and fall in love with those instead. It’s more productive to search for a school with a happening college scene, excellent research opportunities, and great alumni connections than to become overly invested in earning admission to a single institution.
2. “It’s not fair.”
Without fail, students and parents in the college search process identify elements that lack “fairness.” Parents and students are plagued by a myriad of “unfair” parts of the process: “we don’t qualify for aid, but we don’t have the money to pay what they expect” or “if she was a legacy” or “they have to save room for the athletes” or “the SAT is overly emphasized.” Ultimately, it’s true: it’s not fair. But, this mentality merely stalls the college search process.
Solution: When you find yourself railing against injustices, you’re stuck in a rut. Make forward progress with things that you can control (like the personal statement you keep putting off). Remember: action cures anxiety. Do your best, let go of the rest.
3. Searching too broadly, or too narrowly.
There are two extreme college search camps: option lovers and option loathers. Option lovers like the idea of college (in general) so much that they don’t want to close any doors. Thus, they seek research universities, small liberal arts colleges, and even great books curriculums in a myriad of settings and across wide geographic swaths. Option loathers decide on the first agreeable institution; too many doors equal more decisions and that is nerve wracking.
Solution: Keep focused on building a balanced list. You will only attend one college: starting with too many options prolongs the decision-making process unnecessarily. But, student growth and development doesn’t stop senior year so creating a balanced list with some distinct options allows for perspective adjustments. Remember, find a type that fits, not one specific university.
4. Allowing others to make up your mind for you.
Everyone will have an opinion on your college process. Beginning in your junior year, it may feel impossible to converse with anyone without touching on the college search and application process. After a visit to a “top choice” school, a student said, “I liked everything, but the food is terrible and food is kind of a big thing for me.” I asked how she discovered the food “problem.” She admitted that she was relying on her tour guide’s opinion (she hadn’t even tried it herself). Eliminating a school for bad food is reasonable, but only if you’ve tried it yourself.
Solution: You know yourself better than anyone—trust your instincts. Don’t close off all communication: collecting information is an important part of the college process. News publications, rankings, college representatives, peers, friends, relatives all have valuable perspectives to contribute. But, don’t blindly adopt someone else’s opinion. And, no one thinks that they “blindly adopt someone else’s opinion,” so here’s a test: What is the best school in the country? Did you answer Harvard University?