Marketing and Making Your College List
“It’s partly true, too, but it isn’t all true. People always think something is all true.”
When it comes time to begin creating your college list, many students are not sure where to begin. There are thousands of colleges and universities and many that would be a good fit for you. At our local high school, the process starts formally with a scheduled meeting between the guidance counselor, the rising senior, and their parent(s). In advance of the meeting, students are advised to use electronic tools (our school uses Naviance) and consider their preferences regarding campus location, size, availability of major and other attributes. The College Board’s website, Big Future, will also do a search and provides colorful charts and graphs on financial aid and other topics. If you want to be old fashioned, you can purchase or borrow a Fiske Guide to Colleges and read about hundreds of colleges, broken down by state. Another guidebook I really like is, The College Finder by Steven Antonoff. He categorizes and sorts colleges and universities into a dazzling array of unusual lists (ex. which schools have Quidditch teams, a wine making major, best schools for students with Asperger’s). In a less formal way, you may have heard of some schools from friends, family, coaches, or teachers.
If you have taken the PSAT, SAT or ACT, the chances are that you will start to receive materials from colleges in your mailboxes-both snail and electronic. You may not have realized that the first section of these standardized tests is strictly optional! So, if you want to get mail and maybe find out about a school you had never considered or heard of, feel free to fill this part out. But if you don’t, sit back and eat your granola bar. The demographic and personal information gathered in this section is shared with many colleges who buy these lists for marketing and outreach. Colleges are businesses and they will reach out to you in hopes of gaining your interest. For some schools, it’s a way to build their brand recognition and hope to catch your eye and your application. For other schools, they know that their brand is well known but they still hope you will show interest and apply, even if you don’t have the GPA or scores to be accepted. This is because the more applications they get, the more applicants they can reject. Ultimately, it makes the school seem very selective and people tend to think that the more selective a school is, the better it is. So, while it is partly true they want you, it’s not all true. At least not in the way you may think. Your parents might enjoy bragging that you’re being courted by Fancypants Ivy University but that’s about it.
So, now that your bubble is burst, where to start? I like to point students towards the “Sizing-Yourself-Up” survey in the Fiske Guide. I also like to guide my clients through an art exercise (don’t freak out) that helps them tap into their aspirations. At this stage, don’t look at the price tag too much. Once you start to identify schools that fit your needs, I can help you and your family estimate the potential cost and, if necessary, find affordable alternatives.
At this stage, the only truth you really need to be concerned with is starting to discover your true self and finding campuses where you could be yourself. You’ll change in some ways between the time you start your list and the time when you make your final college decision but if you can identify your true-self and personality traits that really make you who you are at heart, you’ll be on the right path.