"Oh, The Places You'll Go!": A Brief Guide To Beginning The College Search

Editor's Note: This post is part of our Girls in STEM mentorship program. Follow along here as we discuss the issues affecting females today in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

At about this time every year, high school juniors across the nation began to feel trembles of trepidation as they commence the college search process. That most important of senior-year rituals, the capstone of students' pre-college career, is finally in sight. And it is nearly impossible not to fret.

But as an experienced college applicant, I am here to share that as daunting as the college search may seem, it is also one of the most illuminating inward journeys you can take. This is because, for perhaps the first time in your life, you are asked to think deeply on what your values, your dreams, your priorities are: who you are. Searching for the right college is like shopping for a nice dress: gorgeous frocks abound, but usually one fits your needs, comfort, style best. In the same way, the perfect college for you will be the one that speaks most eloquently to your passions, not necessarily the school that ranks highest on the US News and World Report list. You should thus approach the college search as a chance to find a community that will nourish your personality and support your dreams. And in order to find this community, you must commence your research early.

There are several resources available to help you--from college guidebooks to your high school counselor. I would begin by surveying student reviews of colleges that are available online: College Prowler and Unigo offer some free resources, and the College Board publishes guidebooks and college search tools as well. As you peruse these materials and college admissions websites, note those academic majors, programs, and school traditions that particularly pique your interest. Save the profiles of schools that seem to match your personality. Write down questions you have, and aspects of the school you would like to research further. If you can, compile all your notes into a separate document for each candidate college, and compose in your own words a pithy paragraph summarizing the merits of that college. By the time you complete your initial research, you will have created a handy compendium of facts and figures, annotated with your own reflections, which can help you to narrow your college list. You will also be able to use many of these notes to inform and enrich your application essays. The value of such a resource, one that you author yourself and continue to evolve, cannot be overstated.

I have listed below some questions that I would recommend you consider as you research. Best of luck, and always remember: the college search process should be fun. You have already done much of the work, over the last few years of your high school career; now comes the time when your efforts finally begin to bear fruit.

Possible questions

Your Personal Vision:
  • What type of career do I want to pursue? Does this school offer the resources, fellowship programs, faculty to prepare me to excel in this area?
  • What kind of narrative do I want to write for myself during my four years at college? How will this school help me craft that narrative and legacy?
  • Which extracurriculars--speech and debate, dance, science research-- do I want to continue in college? How developed are these programs at this school?
  • What are the fees associated with attending this school--tuition, room and board, travel to and from school, books, meal plans?
  • Does this school offer financial aid policies that meet my needs?
  • What types of campus jobs are available?
Student Body:
  • How large is the student body? And what is the student: faculty ratio?
  • How diverse is the student body?
  • Is there a certain personality or skillset in particular that this school attracts?
  • What do students here tend to do after graduating?
  • Are students here happy?
  • Is distance from family significant to me? If so, how far from home is this school?
  • Are faith and cultural communities are important to me? If so, does this school have cohesive groups that I can easily join?
  • How connected does the school's alumni community appear to be?
  • Where is the school located, and what is its relationship like with the surrounding neighborhood?

Sejal is the ambassador for L'Oréal USA's new initiative -- For Girls in Science -- which aims to inspire and empower more girls to pursue careers in S.T.E.M. The platform gathers all the S.T.E.M. resources, support, role models for girls in one central location and offers a "Why S.T.E.M. is Cool" contest to encourage girls interested in these fields to share their own experiences.