Initiating A Search
College search initiates the journey to adulthood. By identifying personal strengths and enunciating goals, the student will define the path to individual fulfillment and success. This coming-of-age process must be driven by the protagonist, but it need not be a solitary process: assembling a support team is essential to an efficient and effective search.
As in any quest saga or bildungsroman, the answer lies within. The protagonist must run the gauntlet and define the individual measures of success. The good news is that this means that the corollary is also true: no one else can solve this problem for you. You cannot buy the answer, no matter how much money you throw at it. Providing competent and caring support can expedite and facilitate the quest, but trying to purchase a surrogate will only undermine the student’s confidence and developing skills.
At CollegeConsult, we begin with assessments of the individual—of interests, aptitudes, values, career orientation, perceptions of academic experiences to date (these are posted in the password-protected section for the use of our clients). Then we discuss the results and use them to define parameters of a successful college experience for this student. The counselor helps the student formulate individual tools for evaluating the aspects of each college that are important to him or her.
In the course of these conversations and activities, the counselor, with input from the student and parents, will begin compiling a large list of potential colleges, maybe 25, for the student to research further. Students can use resources posted on this website to begin that research: the Compendium of College Rankings includes links to dozens of online directories, including the infamous US News & World Report, along with Kiplinger’s, which has a very useful tool for sorting schools by cost, and compilations that are addressed to specific student populations—women, Hispanics, African Americans, etc. This list itself was compiled by librarians at the University of Illinois, who included only websites that published the criteria for making their selections.
The experiences of current college students can often connect forcefully with those just setting out on this journey, and so I have incorporated that perspective in many ways in this website. Under the Shared Experiences tab, you’ll find profiles of some of the students I have worked with, which are modeled on those compiled in the online College Buzz magazine that links to that page. I’ll also continue to post thematic lists, like the schools that offer theatre tech and creative writing programs, which are already available there.
You’ll find the first post on my own campus visits (to the Pacific Northwest) by following that entry from the home page; lots more profiles of schools will be compiled there and under “Shared Experiences.” Look for reports on some 15 colleges from Virginia to Boston that my son Conor and I will visit over spring break.
CollegeConsult provides structure and strategies: a College visit form for keeping notes on campus info sessions and tours; some Questions to ask, yourself or the tour guide; informational resources, like the scale one student developed to reflect his personal priorities in selecting an undergraduate business school; or tips on what to do on a college visit.
Although I strongly recommend that a student visit a college before enrolling, it is not feasible or financially wise to visit every campus before applying. In the interim, the student can use video tours to get a better sense of the campus culture. I rely on YouniversityTV.com, but I also like the student reviews and perspectives on Unigo, both of which can be accessed from my home page.
One of the underlying principles of Santa Barbara Middle School is, “Begin with the End in Mind.” I thought a lot about this precept while my son was a student at SBMS, in part because I was rather uncomfortable with its fatalist overtones. Eventually this meditation brought me back to an afternoon in Paris, where I was just wrapping up my second year at the Ecole du Louvre and wondering what I would do with my studies, which included a BA in comparative literature along with this focus on art history. As I contemplated and rejected one job description after another in the field, I realized clearly that what most interested me most was the books and exhibition catalogues. I don’t think I ever could have progressed from that realization to my career of the past 25 years (see http:www.PerpetuaPress.com) without somehow having formulated that “end” as I launched myself into the working world. Not that this thought dominated my choices or that I was even conscious of it at each juncture, but I am sure that subconsciously that moment of realization guided my choices. A similar realization, in whatever formative stage, is what should emerge in this part of the college search process.
Angel Perez, an admissions counselor at Pitzer, one of the Claremont Colleges, and one of my professors at UCLA, offers some commonsense advice on starting a college search. Another UCLA prof, Steve Antonoff of Denver, lays out a plan for researching colleges in these posts.