This next advice is somewhat boring for me to give, and you may already know some of these tips, but I think it’s definitely worth mentioning. Here, I’ll act as a guidance counselor and share some general best-practices for school selection and application strategy. I’ll try to keep it brief so we can stick to the writing.
Note: I’m writing this in 2019, so I apologize if I’m missing elements of your current application process. I will continuously be writing blogs as new information arises!
I recommend creating a simple Excel spreadsheet like the template included in this post, in order to keep track of your applications and deadlines. There are plenty of templates for doing this online, so if you’d like, you can go crazy and find one that makes the most sense for you. From my experience, however, something simple like the one here works just fine. Feel free to add other criteria to fit your needs (i.e. # of essays, # of words… whatever you need to be organized).
In-Person College Visits
In terms of school selection, I would recommend doing thorough research from different perspectives. Visiting a school is ideal because you can truly get a sense of the energy there. When I was applying to colleges, visiting really helped me figure out if I was a good fit culturally and personally. You don’t need to be too intense or stressed on the visit. They’re going to throw a lot of information at you and try to get you to apply.
Check out the dorms, living spaces, food, and consider if it’s a place you would enjoy for 4 years. It can also be extremely valuable to visit colleges already having essay prompts in mind, because you can take active notes about what you’re experiencing. When you actually draft your essays, you will be able to easily reflect on your real life memories of visiting and capture the most poignant details. It’s little things like this that separate spectacular essays from good essays.
How to Nail Online Research
Aside from visiting, the Internet is your best friend. Go online to the school’s website and look at their course offerings, research programs, and opportunities to see what makes them stand out. Note the pros and cons.
Then, go read about the college on Reddit (i.e. ApplyToCollege Reddit Page). I’m serious! Sift through for a bit, but don’t waste too much time. A lot of times, people on Reddit will talk about topics you never thought of and answer pressing questions. Anonymous forums are an easy way to assess the true nature of the schools you’re considering. Again, be as educated as possible and note the pros and cons while checking your bias against any single source of information. This type of research is something everyone should do (while many don’t) and it’s an important part of setting up your future!
Lastly, try going on YouTube! Sometimes universities create engaging videos that are actually surprisingly entertaining. One of my favorites is the University of Pennsylvania’s video about its core principle of “True Learning,” inspired by the life of the schools founder, Benjamin Franklin. See if the school you’re interested has any compelling videos. A lot of times watching these can really help you make connections and generate ideas for essay topics.