by Charlene Liebau
In the past two weeks this column has been addressed tocurrent high school seniors and the challenge of writing the college “essay” –the personal statement. This weekI turn to current sophomores and juniors as they begin to think about startingthe college search process.
The first step in a new project is often the most difficultone. Starting the college planningprocess is no exception. How andwhere to begin? What informationdo I need? What questions should Ibe asking?
The college planning process does not begin by comparingcolleges: the number of majors offered; the student/faculty ratio; typicalclass size; or number of books in the library. The process begins with the student having a long, honest,candid talk with oneself to determine priorities. I refer to this first step as Self-Assessment. It takes time, is not easy, and isoften frustrating. How do I knowI’ve asked all the questions I need to ask? And, what if “I don’t know” is the answer?
Begin by putting basic questions associated with choosing acollege into four categories: Academic, Student Life, Physical Characteristics, and Financial. In this column I will raise questionsand set priorities related to Academics and Physical Characteristics. Next week I will touch on Student Lifeand Financial questions.
Thestudent begins by asking:
ACADEMICS: HaveI decided on a major field of study? Am I ready to decide? Basedon what? What are my academicstrengths, weaknesses, interests? How open am I to taking general education or core program courses? In what kind of environment do I learnbest? Most enjoy learning? Does studying a diversity of coursesappeal to me? Is the opportunityto participate in research or internship program as an undergraduate importantto me? What about study abroadprograms? To what degree do I wantto be challenged academically by the faculty? Challenged by fellow students?
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Location. Where do I want to live for the nextfour years? Which region of thecountry – north, south, east, west, mid-west? In what kind of setting: urban, suburban, or rural? Why? How far from home? How much time am I willingto travel to get there? Size. Do I want to know my professors andclassmates? Is activelyparticipating in class discussions important to me? Or, do I prefer a lectureformat? Is having access to a widerange of courses and activities important? Do I want to be able to participate in music or theateractivities even though I am not majoring in them? If I combine my preferences for location and size what is my“best fit”? A small college in alarge city has a very different feel from a small college in a rural settingjust as a large university in an urban setting differs from a large universityin a small town. Resources. Do my academic and co-curricularinterests require specialized resources? For example – special library collections or research and laboratoryfacilities.
Asthe student begins to consider these questions the response “I don’t know” isquite acceptable. But for thosequestions you can answer with some degree of certainty, also ask: On whatbasis? What experience influencesyour answer? Is your reason asolid one? Your goal is todetermine three or four priorities under the two categories presented. These priorities will begin to givedirection, will help drive, the college search.
Next week: Setting priorities for Student Life and Finances.
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