Practical Advice for Finding Your Dream University

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By Dr. Kat Cohen
October 3, 2013

This fall, high school seniors are faced with making the first of many life-changing decisions: “Which college should I go to?” With more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. to choose from, finding the dream university may be a daunting task. The truth is the perfect university doesn’t exist, but with the right guidance and resources, students can find many colleges where they can be successful and thrive.

So what factors should college-bound teens consider when making their wish list? It’s not the school with the best parties, the weather or where their best friend or boyfriend is applying.

It all comes down to academic, social and financial fit.

Imagine you’re starting college tomorrow, which courses would you take? Are there research, internship and study abroad opportunities offered in your areas of interest? Which extracurricular activities would you take advantage of on and off campus? Have you had an open conversation with your parents about their potential financial contribution?

If you do your research correctly, you should end up with a list of 12 to 15 good-fit schools. This should reflect a balance of reach, target and likely schools, any of which you’d be happy to attend. For students who aren’t sure exactly where to begin, here are some tips:

Get your computer, tablet or smartphone and get online

It’s never too early to begin researching schools. Thanks to the Internet, there is a wealth of information readily available. You can visit college websites, page through online course catalogs and even take virtual campus tours and attend virtual college fairs. Get a real student perspective and good sense of campus culture by reading the school newspaper and blog online.

LinkedIn also provides you with the opportunity to make informed decisions on which universities, majors and skills will help you achieve professional success – making college matchmaking even easier. The newly launched LinkedIn University Pages allows higher education institutions to have dedicated pages so they can build their community and directly engage with prospective students, current students, parents and alumni. University Pages allow college-bound teens to access important information on colleges, such as the cost of tuition, notable alumni and more. You can also gain valuable insights on LinkedIn about what it’s really like on campus by connecting with current students and recent graduates, and trace the educational and professional paths of notable alumni by following the most influential business leaders and company pages.

Be a student on campus, even if for a day

You will likely spend four years of your life at college, and nothing beats the gut check that comes with an in-person campus visit. Plan on visiting the schools that you are considering seriously while school is in session. It’s important to attend both the official information session and the campus tour, as it shows demonstrated interest in the school. However, also make time to explore the campus and local community.

Do’s and don’ts of a campus visit:

  • Do forgo the urge to stay in an expensive hotel and eat in a four-star restaurant.
  • Don’t miss the opportunity to have a meal with current students in the campus dining hall, audit a class in a topic of interest and spend a night in a campus dorm room.
  • Do take lots of photos and copious notes.
  • Don’t let mom and dad ask all the questions.
  • Do wear comfortable shoes.

Alumni networks, a secret weapon

Alumni networks are a great resource that often go untapped. You should talk to your college guidance counselor and see if there are any alumni from your high school who currently attend or have recently attended the colleges that interest you. These alumni often come from a similar background and can talk about what the transition to the college was like for them. They may also be willing to host an overnight stay.

Not sure what to study or major in? Network in a field of choice or in a few that are of interest. LinkedIn Groups can help you connect with professionals who can provide insight into a career – and who may be potential employers in the future.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all college. If you take the time to do your research early on in the admissions process, you will be happily attending a good fit college come orientation!