Chicago and of course, Northwestern. Don't get me wrong, they're great places to visit but I think if you go only to big name colleges, you'll miss an important aspect of your college visits: variety.
If there is one thing that the US does well, it's the variety of their colleges and universities. They have tiny ones (enrollment: 26) to huge ones (enrollment: 60,000), technical institutes, art schools, performance schools, liberal arts colleges, co-op institutions, work colleges, and research universities. If you visit only the big or famous schools, you won't see the small Catholic college or that famous liberal arts institution. If you concentrate only on the Ivies, you'll miss out on the plethora of liberal arts colleges that outperform them when it comes to undergraduate education. Ideally, you want to get a flavor of different kinds of schools even if you have no intention of attending them. Well...ok, I guess if you have absolutely no intention of going into performance, you can skip Juilliard or if science, engineering or math fields aren't your cup of tea, forget Caltech. There are many diamonds in the rough out there and sometimes they get overpowered by their famous neighbors. I won't pretend to give you a list of all the places to go in each city but if in[caption id="attachment_1087" align="aligncenter" width="256"] You would be wrong to begin and end your college tour of the Bay Area at Stanford. Look at Menlo, Santa Clara, St. Mary's, etc.[/caption] SAN FRANCISCO Visit Stanford, UC Berkeley and Santa Clara but also: Menlo, St. Mary's and maybe San Jose and San Francisco State [caption id="attachment_1090" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Obama attended Oxy...so you should at least look at it.[/caption] LOS ANGELES Visit UCLA and USC but also: Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, Scripps, Pomona (The Claremont Colleges), Cal Poly Pomona, Occidental, Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine and if you're going further afield-- UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and maybe Cal Poly San Luis Obispo SEATTLE Visit University of Washington but also: Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Gonzaga (in Spokane), Evergreen State (in Olympia), Washington State (in Pullman), Whitman (in Walla Walla) and Reed (in Portland, OR) CHICAGO Visit University of Chicago and Northwestern but also Beloit College (Beloit, WI), Knox College (Galesburg), DePaul, Marquette (Milwaukee, WI) and Hope College (Holland, MI) NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY Visit Columbia, New York University, and Princeton but also Fordham, Cooper Union, Rutgers, Vassar, and Marist. PHILADELPHIA Visit University of Pennsylvania but also Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr(women's college), and Villanova BOSTON Visit Harvard and MIT but also Boston College, Amherst, Hampshire, Wellesley (women's college), Holy Cross, Marlboro College (in Vermont), Bates, Bowdoin, Colby (all in Maine) [caption id="attachment_1088" align="aligncenter" width="300"] President Kennedy once called Boston College the Jesuit Ivy.[/caption] Wow! That's a lot of schools. I am not saying that you should visit all of them but you should try to mix in a few of them and maybe drop a big name or two. I mean....once you've seen a big UC, how many more do you have to see? Once you've seen one Ivy you've seen them all. So take advantage of your summer break and go visit a variety of colleges and since our Philippine summers run during the American spring semester, you'll be able to catch students and catch a class or two. Comments urgently solicited. (Personal anecdote: Tyler and I did our college trip in the summer of 2012. In the space of seven weeks, we visited 15 campuses in the US and Canada: U of British Columbia, Simon Fraser, U of Waterloo, U of Toronto, (McGill got canceled), NYU, Fordham, Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, Harvey Mudd, Caltech, UC Irvine, Stanford, Santa Clara, and UC Berkeley. If you noticed we didn't take our own advice. :) )
For a lot of students, their college search centers around their proposed major. This is true for students looking at colleges here in the Philippines and abroad. It seems absurd not to...isn't the purpose of going to college the major? Why shouldn't it be the driving force of which college to attend?
It does seem silly at first glance until you look at a couple of sobering facts: number one, most entering freshmen really don't know what they want to do. Sure, if you ask them most will say they want to study pre-med, business, engineering, etc. but few students, if any, know what those fields involve. Students study engineering not because they want to build bridges or buildings but because they heard jobs are easy to find if one has an engineering degree. Same with business (second most popular freshman major) and pre-med. The most popular freshman major, not surprisingly, is undeclared. The second sobering fact is that 80% of students change their major (shift) at least once and on the average will change their major three times. Given those facts, it might seem crazy to even factor in one's major when choosing a college.
But doing that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Having a prospective major in mind can be useful too because it helps prune the number of colleges to be considered. If you're seriously going to study computer science, it will help your college search to eliminate--at least preliminarily--schools that don't offer a computer science major. You could try to begin narrowing your schools by looking at the top 20 or 30 programs in the country, eliminating those that are too selective for your grades and SAT scores. Say that you had the top 30 schools and you eliminated the top 15 because they were too selective for you. That leaves you with fifteen schools. Research these fifteen schools and schools similar to them in selectivity. At this point, you are looking for a school that will fit you, where you will feel challenged, yet comfortable, both academically and socially. If you find such a school in your research but it doesn't offer your computer science major, don't be too quick to eliminate it from your list. There may be alternative programs (usually through the math department) where you could get a degree in computer science. For example, say you wanted to get an engineering degree and you really like Reed College in Portland (see my write up on this school). However, since Reed is a liberal arts college, it doesn't offer engineering degrees. It does, however, run a co-operative program with Caltech where Reed students spend the first three years at Reed then take a final two years at Caltech to do their engineering classes. At the end, voila, engineering degree.
Only one thing should drive your college search--you. The end result of your college search and admission process is to be at a college where YOU feel challenged and comfortable. The school may or may not be top 20 in the discipline you're in, but that really doesn't matter.
By way of example let me bring up one of my young friends. She had decided at the end of her senior year that she wanted to study film Well and good! She did her research and set her sights on Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, an institution with a renowned film department. She was elated when she got in and she promptly enrolled. A year later, she changed her major to environmental science...she had lost her interest in film. Her college search had yielded a school that was strong in her prospective major but she loved Wesleyan so she didn't mind studying environmental science there even if that program wasn't as renowned as its film program.
My own prospective major had been physics. My college search centered around Jesuit schools because it was important to me at that time that I continue my education with the Jesuits. I wound up at Santa Clara University, a school known more for its business and engineering offerings than its physics department. But I went on to have a more than satisfying college career there.
My own son's interest is mathematics. During his college search, I allowed him to focus more on his major because I seriously doubt he will change majors (but it can still happen). The final two schools we were considering were both top math schools: Waterloo and Reed. Besides being very strong in math, Reed and Waterloo could not have been more different. Waterloo was in Canada and enrolled 27,000 students. Reed was a much smaller rigorous liberal arts college in Portland that enrolled about 3,000. He chose Waterloo over Reed both for math and non-math reasons. I know that regardless of what happens in his college career, Tyler will be happy at Waterloo because his college choice was driven by both his interest in math and his connection with the Waterloo community. We'll just have to wait and see.
Comments are, as always, welcomed and urgently solicited.
John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines
+63 (917) 833-3825
+63 (917) 833-3825