American Universities: How to Find the Right One

New students find their way around campus during orientation. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Summer_orientation_2013.jpg)

Guest blog by student, Aubry Tedford.

Picking the right college is like picking your wedding dress. You have a checklist of what you want, you know the setting and budget, but you don’t know which one is going to give you that indescribable feeling.

My name is Aubry Tedford and I will be attending university in the US in August 2017. I am an American currently living in Auckland. I have almost completed the U.S. university (or college as most Americans would say) application process. As it comes to a close I am bubbling with excitement for my freshman year and to step on a campus not as part of a tour, but as part of the student body. I am sharing my college search experience with you in hopes that you find your perfect school and feel half as excited as I do.

The first thing anyone who is looking at colleges in the States should know is that you are looking at an experience, not just an education. College is about exploring and finding yourself. It is about discovering your passions, gaining life experience, and exploring different majors. Learning outside of the classroom in college is just as important as learning in the classroom. As a student you should join clubs, study abroad, take internships, make friends, and much more. While each U.S. college is about the experience, not every college has the same experience. It is important to not only pick a great school, but also pick the best school for you as an individual because this will greatly shape your entire college experience.

Tulane University football team takes the field (Photo credit: Wikimedia commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tulane_Green_Wave_football_takes_the_field_(2014).jpg).
Tulane University football team takes the field (Photo credit: Wikimedia commons).

The college checklist is the crucial first step in any college search. This list can be anything – long, short, academic, social, geographic – and it is the basis of the schools you will consider applying to. This list is not just about academics, but about everything you want to get out of your college experience. My list started with the geographic, I knew I wanted to go to school in the South. I then targeted the experience I wanted. I knew I wanted a big school with Greek life, a diverse student body, a football atmosphere, and study abroad opportunities. This helped narrow my choices and find schools that academically fit my interests. I was then able to narrow my choices further and better understand the type of school that would be the right fit for me.

The next important step of the college process is actually touring schools. I know that this can be difficult considering Auckland, New Zealand is on the complete opposite side of the world, but I think that touring schools is one of the most important steps. If you can visit, do it! If not, make sure you utilize all of the great tools out there to get a good sense of the campus culture. Follow the college on social media, read the student newspaper online, listen to the campus radio station, or even have the admissions office put you in touch with a current student on campus.

Prospective students and families tour the University of Washington campus in cherry blossom season. (Photo credit: Joe Mabel, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmabel/13348002824)
Prospective students and families tour the University of Washington campus in cherry blossom season. (Photo credit: Joe Mabel).

I was lucky enough to look at the majority of my schools during my junior year, year twelve. My family turned what could have been a boring spring break into a road trip of the South, touring schools and cities. It can be daunting to hit multiple schools in a few days, but it can be the most effective way to see the most schools in a short amount of time. It is important to have an idea of what you want out of your college experience and a list of schools you plan to see before you go, that way you have a plan and know what you are looking for.

By the end of my college touring process I narrowed my choice to six. Now writing this with answers from five of the six, and multiple scholarships, I can honestly say I am a little torn. Personally for me, I love all the schools I applied to and would be happy at any of them. I have had to come to terms with the fact that the perfect school for me may not exactly fit my list, and that is okay. It is important to know what you want, but also see beyond that list and be willing to compromise. Pick a school that feels right. You should feel like the people that go to that school fit with your personality and that you love the place you are going to school. The biggest thing I can stress is do not make a decision based wholeheartedly on numbers and statistics, but pick the place you feel most at home because chances are that is the place you will do the best.

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