Whether you've made up your mind or don't know how to start, this article will be helpful

Furthering your education after high school has one primary objective - to enable you to compete for the best opportunities within your area of career interest.

Identifying "why" you want to attend college and therefore what you want to study so you can compete in a particular career area is very important and a critical pre-step before getting your sites set on a particular college.

This article addresses that next step in the process - having and implementig a college selection strategy. Juniors and seniors have much less time to make their mark in the classroom and in their activities.

Seniors are in the college application process NOW. Juniors are beginning the search in earnest. For sophomores and freshman, you are in a position to use the information in this article in a proactive way. So don't procrastinate, there are things to do. The following are helpful thoughts around developing and following a college selection strategy:

  • The first thing to know is that there are tons of possibilities. Having identified THE college for you may not be the best strategy. That mindset tends to create blinders for other possibilities, in case you don't receive an acceptance letter from THE college. There are schools for everyone who wants to further his or her education. Keep an open mind.

  • Be sure to READ the information provided by schools regarding how the admissions process works at each given possible college choice. Evaluate your credentials and see how you fit into the mix.

  • Be prepared with a back up plan if the uh-oh moment arrives: you might have all the right credentials and still not be admitted if the college is highly selective. Colleges are crafting classes, so they are building on what their needs are in a given year and the highly selective ones have far more possible candidates than they can admit. Be prepared for rejection; it happens – in admissions and in life.

  • If you don’t focus on a one-and-only choice, you’ll be better prepared to be happy at other schools you've considered where you are admitted.

  • Deadlines, spelling and neatness all COUNT. That is a theme you'll see from all corners – teachers counselors, parents, admissions officers.

  • Essays really do matter. Print it. Proof it. Crumple it. Drop pizza on it. Read it 3 or 4 times, editing after each read. Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check. If you know someone who is gifted in editing, have them edit it. Before you snail mail it or punch the submit button, make sure you have done everything to make it the best it can be. However, it needs to be your voice that comes through – not your parents’ or anyone else’s voice. Avoid being controversial; real people with opinions read these essays. Don’t write what might offend someone. The real key is to make sure that the essay shows a side of you that the reader cannot glean from any other part of your application. The essay is a way to personalize an impersonal process. What distinguishes you in a competitive admissions pool is your essay AND your out-of-class accomplishments (which is why Freshman and Sophomores in high school have an advantage at this stage - they can craft their out-of-class strategy and still have time to implement that strategy.

  • Every year in high school is important. Work to capacity with the motto that your hard work brings you closer to attaining YOUR goals. Don't have any goals? That's ok. Just don't expect to be shocked when you haven't accomplished anything. You'll start accomplishing when you start setting goals.

  • Don’t rule out a college based on the sticker price. Apply for financial aid/scholarships. Complete all the forms that a college requires. Complete them by the deadlines. Know whether the school can meet demonstrated need (that is a specific term for a particular approach to financial aid).

  • As for college alumni interviews, the basic recommendation: if you have the opportunity to interview, DO IT! Realize that interviews can be conducted by alums in your area, students at the college, or admissions reps. Interviews can be informational or evaluative. Know which kind you’ll be having. Don’t wear a sweat shirt from another college (it happens)! Dress appropriately. Don’t chew gum. Don’t let a parent set up the interview for you. And, by all means, know something about the college and be able to talk about why you are interested in this particular school. Don't say in the interview that you'll be going to the school that forks over the most money toward expenses (even if it is true). Avoid the typical “ya know, like…” comments. Practice interviewing with another student, your counselor or a parent. One reason you want to interview is it shows demonstrated interest in a given school. While demonstrated interest is not a factor in admission at some schools, it has become an increasingly important factor in admissions at some schools. There are many ways to demonstrate interest – a campus visit, an interview with an alum, speaking with a college rep who visits your school, connecting with a college at a college fair, or a written inquiry, etc. When my son was evaluating colleges, we visited his top five choices. His mom worked the phones to get him a meeting with key professors in the departments he was most interested in. Professors will tell you that have absolutely no influence in the selection process. That is true. However, if you discuss in your essay how a particular professor at that school was very inspirational when you met with them while visiting the college YOU will be influencing the selection process.

So Seniors: If you haven't started, get a move on.
Juniors: Start making those college visits.
Freshman and Sophomores: Start researching "why" a college or university should be on your short list of schools to visit

Need a short list of "best-in-class" research sites? Go here!

Best wishes for your continued success!

Carl Nielson
Founder, Success Discoveries and Creator of Career Coaching for Students™