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Listen to Your Gut, Not Your Friends: Choosing Your College List

So, you’ve begun developing your college list. Hopefully, you’ve established your priorities and started your research. Looking over your preliminary list, you can’t pinpoint why several of those schools are even on your list in the first place. How could you forget about your parents adding two of their top choice schools for you? While it’s great to get feedback on your college list, and your parents play an important role in the college admissions process, we do not advise letting your friends and family determine what you do with the next four years — let alone the rest of your life. Here is a list of reasons why you should go with your gut when creating your college list.

Your friends may play a big role in your life; however, now is your time to shine and become your own person. For example, you may want to attend the same school as your boyfriend or girlfriend, but picking a school independent of your significant other can broaden your horizons and introduce you to new experiences. You’re heading into some of the most formative years of your life; you should be happy with where you spend those years. Consider your thoughts on factors such as academic programs, extracurricular offerings, even location and climate, but recognize there’s more to finding a school than that. All of those things should factor into your research and decisions on the best schools for you. Dr. Kat says, “The next four years are going to be crucial to your future and a little research now will pay huge dividends later on.” She encourages students to research each school on their lists to find why they want to go there. “If you don’t know why you’re applying to a certain school, then don’t apply,” she says. “You are the one who has to live with your decision and you will not be happy if you’re not at a school that’s right for you.”

What about rankings? You can look at rankings to get ideas of potential schools, but a school shouldn’t be on your list unless you have done your own extensive research. Dr. Kat suggests that you come up with your own criteria and judge schools based on those priorities that are most important to you. Once you do that, you may find that your friends’ lists will probably look different than yours. They may want a school with an active Greek life, while you are not planning on joining a fraternity or sorority. You should look into the curriculum, courses and professors, extracurricular activities, research, and internship opportunities, and campus life; this will help you determine if those schools are good fits for you academically, socially, and financially.

You should know what you want from your college experience and your school. It is important to have concrete reasons why you want to apply to a school, not, “because Tom is applying there,” or, “because there is a Chick-Fil-A on campus.” You should be able to go beyond surface qualities of the school and delve into the specific classes or extracurriculars offered. Visit your schools to get a feel for the campus. Make sure to go when classes are in session so you can imagine yourself there and talk to current students. This experience will help you go with your gut; if you can’t imagine yourself there, then perhaps the school isn’t for you.

“I think I’m applying to Harvard.” If you’re applying to highly selective colleges and universities you should feel comfortable discussing your plans with your friends. You shouldn’t feel swayed by their approval or disapproval of certain institutions. This decision is yours and yours alone. You must know yourself well enough to choose the right school for you. Dr. Kat says, “if you do the proper amount of research — delving deeply into both your prospective schools and yourself — you will soon see that many schools fit your criteria.”

My parents went there. Being a legacy may increase your chances of being admitted to certain schools; however, if you don’t want to attend an alma mater, you shouldn’t let your parents sway your decision too much. Another possibility is that your parents may try to live vicariously through you during your application process by adding schools to your list your mom and dad could not attend. Follow with your judgment when choosing schools. Of course, back it up with in-depth research, but don’t let your parents take over your list.

My friends and I are still looking at the same school. If your friends are interested in a school, visit the school together and attend an info session. Do your research as you would with any other school. Dr. Kat says, “The truth is: you must go forth and seek if you want to end up in the right place.” You could find offerings that complement your needs just as much as your friends’. However, don’t be afraid to branch out. You can read the school paper to learn about hot topics on campus or how the administration responds to students’ concerns, for example. If you are attending an in-state university, explore your options. You don’t have to attend the local school just because your friends are doing so. Most state school systems have numerous campuses that allow you to experience a new circle of friends and opportunities that may be better suited to your interests. Colleges often attract students with the same interests. Plus, there are plenty of ways of keeping in touch with your high school friends; Skype, cell phones, email, and snail mail will help you remain in contact with your family and BFFs.

Whether you’re discussing colleges with your friends or family during the application process, be sure to consider your own needs and wants first. Don’t let your priorities get lost in the shuffle. Ultimately, you have to spend four years of your life at the college you choose to attend. If you have great friends, they will remain your friends even if you choose a different school. It’s important to trust to your gut and instincts — as well as your research! — rather than others’ opinions of what’s best for you.

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