Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Applying and choosing the right college for you may be overwhelming at times, but getting advice from those who have experienced the process can help make it easier. In a recent webinar hosted by BeyondDreams and Connect-In-Place, students from Brown, Vanderbilt, Princeton, UPenn, and Wharton shared their experiences of the college process.
What factors did you consider when choosing your college? Is there anything that students should pay special attention to?
Isabella, a student at Brown University, said that she took time in deciding which college to apply for early decision. Early decision is a binding agreement with the college wherein the scenario that you are accepted into the college, you must attend. Applying early is only possible with one college, so the choice is essential. Isabella chose and is now attending her dream college, Brown University.
Another large factor to consider when applying is the college environment. First, acknowledge that college will be about education and academics, so try to find out how the college encourages students to collaborate and work with others outside of their discipline. Isabella liked Brown because it has an open curriculum, which allowed her to build her own education experience. It gave Isabella the opportunity to collaborate with other students who are studying other subjects. While academics at various colleges could be at a similar level, they each have varying environments and how they encourage their students.
Also, considering college class sizes may help the decision become easier. Most introductory classes tend to be large, but at the advanced level, the class sizes differ from each college. Jessica saw that the University of Pennsylvania has smaller class sizes at a higher level, around 30 people each class, which allowed her to have a more personalized education.
Location plays a large role in choosing the best college for you. Consider factors such as cost of living, being in an urban or rural environment, transportation, and attractions nearby.
Finally, pick a college that has the best career path for your aspirations. For example, Jessica, originally a student at UC Berkeley but then transferred to Wharton, wanted to study Business and Economics, but Berkeley only allowed sophomores to apply to the business school. Since she wanted to receive a business education earlier, Penn was a better fit.
How did your intended major play a role in your application? How is that path grown or changed during college?
Many people, like Victoria, a student at Vanderbilt University, applied to college as undecided since they are interested in various subjects and find it difficult to choose only one. Victoria was interested in technology, business, and considering premed, so she looked into colleges that had strengths in all of these areas. This gives you a better chance for success even if you keep changing majors. Additionally, if you keep trying new activities and majors, you can learn what you like and dislike. You will learn about yourself, which will be useful in settling on the right major for you.
When Monica, a student at Princeton University, was applying to colleges, she was not sure what exactly she wanted to study. However, since most of Monica’s extracurriculars were art-related, she created a musical persona in her Princeton college application to apply as a music major. For example, when the application asked for her favorite website, she gave a musical website. In reality, Monica was not sure if she wanted to pursue music, but Princeton University gives two years to decide what you want to do.
Another great way to gauge whether or not a major is a good fit for you is by talking to students in that major. These people can help you decide if it would be worthwhile and can help cancel options out to find what is best for you.
What is your best piece of advice for writing college essays?
The college application is an opportunity for you to show the admissions officers who you are and tell a little bit about your story. There is most likely not a topic that admissions officers have never seen before because they have read thousands of essays, so all you can do is write an essay that is meaningful to you. Also, make sure your essay is in your voice, meaning that if you were to show it to your family or friends, they would be able to tell that you wrote it. If your name is not at the top of the essay, is that still your story?
Focus a lot more on the content rather than the delivery. Most example essays online are written in an elegant way. In reality, some people write more analytically straightforward while others write anecdotally and in a narrative way. So rather than focusing on the delivery, write how it comes naturally and focuses on the message you are trying to get across.
What are some misconceptions about college life, whether that be academic, social, or professional?
Entering college, a common misconception is that the balance of social and academic life is similar throughout every college. However, schools like Princeton have much more academically rigorous energy, while others have a higher social priority. For example, Princeton requires Juniors and Seniors to conduct independent research and write a 100-page thesis. Look into understanding what is unique about each school and what catches your interest the most.
Another misconception is that you should stick to the same extracurriculars that you did in high school. Universities invest a lot of money into clubs, so it is better to try new activities, which can provide you with experiences with unique people.
Some people believe that getting into college is the end goal. However, if you want to go to medical, law, or graduate school, you still have to maintain good grades in college. Realizing that college will not be all fun and games will set you up for success.
How would you describe your campus culture and how has that affected your college experience?
Vanderbilt student Victoria appreciates how the school has a nice balance between people who study a lot and those who hang out with their friends. Vanderbilt also has a large Greek life population, so it may or may not be fit for you based on your preferences.
At Brown University, no student has the same schedule as any other student on campus, meaning that each person is unique. Additionally, everyone at Brown is outspoken in what they believe in and they are out-of-the-box thinkers.
Princeton University does not have the typical fraternity sorority system. However, Princeton still does create communities within communities on campus. The college has Zee Groups, which are groups of 10-15 freshmen that get to know each other and receive free food.
Large colleges are easier to find people that are similar to you. Berkeley is a large school, while Penn is a smaller college. In addition, Penn has a stronger social culture compared to Berkeley, which is very focused on academics.
In conclusion, choosing a college is dependent on many factors, such as the ideal location, social and academic balance, and uniqueness.