The College List: Reach Schools & Safety Schools

college listPicking a college can be a difficult but also hopefully fun decision.  It’s important to give yourself enough time to pick a school that’s right for you.  What does this mean?  You’ll have to do a bit of introspection to figure out what’s important to you.  Do you play sports?  If so, going to a Division I school that is strong in your chosen sport could be a deciding factor.  Do you want to live in the city or in a more pastoral setting? Do you want to live closer or far away from your family?

Also, do you want to go to a big school or small school?  Going to a 4-year liberal arts college where professors primarily teach as opposed to a big 4-year research university may be better for someone who likes more individualized attention.  Consider the curriculum.  If you know you want to major in computer science, make sure the school you are picking has both breadth and depth of computer science courses.  There will always be things you won’t know until you actually attend the school (like whether or not the food is edible) but college campus visits can be a great opportunity to ask the Admissions Committee any questions you might have and get a feel for the more intangible aspects of the school you’re looking at.  

After all the college visits and late nights wondering where you’ll spend the next 4 years, you’ll hopefully have a list.  Your list should have several “reach schools” (those schools that might be difficult for you to get into based on your GPA, high school course load and ACT/ SAT score) and several “safety schools” (those schools you know that you can definitely get into based on your educational background).

Speaking from experience, when I applied to college I took a more haphazard approach.  I basically applied to all top schools that all my other friends were applying to; blame peer pressure.  Although it wasn’t at the top of my list, I ended up at a wonderful college in the Midwest, away from the East Coast where I had grown up.  I didn’t know anyone that went there, it was almost a shot in the dark.  But I was open-minded enough to consider a school that was geographically farther from those my peers selected, plus the scholarship money didn't hurt. 

Even though the school would not have been my top choice geographically, after college I realized how lucky I was to attend my school and all the wonderful people I met there from all over the world. On my freshman floor, I met people from Nebraska, Kentucky, even Wyoming, and there were also international students from Singapore and Nepal.  I was also lucky enough to attend a school that not only had edible food but was voted one of the top campus eateries in the country.  Trust me, this was very apparent to my waistline by the end of Freshman year.

Lastly, try not to set your sights on just one school.  Many high school students become heartbroken if they are rejected from their top-choice.   Remember, college is more competitive than ever and many students don’t get into their top-choices. That’s OK.  Just rest assured that you picked enough schools that you liked from the beginning that ending up at any of them will result in a great college experience.

Photo by washtenawcc.

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