You will be generating a list of colleges based on characteristics such as size, majors, and location. These are important characteristics but you should not end your search at that point. When it comes to narrowing the list, many students are not sure how to proceed. There’s no magic formula for deciding between schools. Ultimately, students need to research them further to find their differences. But how do you research a college?
Here are some tips.
In ancient times, before the internet, students found out about a college by reading the college catalog. Even with all the information available on the internet, the college catalogs can still a valuable resource. Look at the college catalog for general graduation requirements. Some colleges are very flexible in their distribution requirements. Others have extensive and specific course requirements for graduation. How much do these requirements differ between the colleges and how important is it to you? For example some colleges do not require non math majors to take a math course while other colleges require all students to have some math.
As you browse through all the courses listed in the catalog, remember these are possible courses. Many will not be offered every semester or even every year. So you’ll need to check the course schedule for the number and types of classes offered in the area you may want to major in.
When you’re researching the class schedule, check to see which professors are teaching the classes and how many. In other words, are the full-time faculty in the department teaching the classes or are they being assigned to a variety of part-time faculty. In general, extensive use of part-time faculty is not good thing since they don’t have the same amount of time to prepare for the classes and may not be around when you need letters of recommendation or research opportunities. In larger colleges, the classes are sometimes taught by graduate teaching assistants, not a professor, so find out who teaches the classes.
Find out the college’s policy of accepting AP classes, dual credit, and IB classes for credit. Don’t just look at the general policy; look for the specific requirements for the classes you have taken. At many schools, this can get you out of the introductory classes.
Read the student paper. Most college papers have a presence online. The paper can reveal issues and concerns on campus that you won’t hear about from the admissions office. You can also Google and check the local city paper and do a search on the college name for more information.
Research what activities are being held on campus. Which clubs are active? Does the school bring in a lot speakers? Are there movies or concerts? Are there intramural sports? Is there transportation for off-campus shopping and activities? If sports are important to you. does the campus support its athletic teams? You can usually find out how many people attend sporting events by looking up the individual game stats.
Does the school offer study abroad programs and if they do are they in countries that you would be interested in going to?
Determine what sorts of resources are being offered by the career center. Does there seem to be lots of opportunities to interact with the career center staff? Do they offer networking events for internships and jobs? If you can’t find this information, how will you find out about once you are on campus? While you are a student, does the school help you in obtaining internships in you major?
Visit department websites. This is a much more hit or miss proposition since some departments put a lot of effort into maintaining their webpages while others will only contain the basic information required by the college. If nothing else, look up the individual professors to see what their research interests are.
Check out faculty ratings at sites as RateMyProfessors.com. Such ratings will have limitations, specific faculty may not be listed or some people may have an ax to grind. However, if you keep these limitations in mind, you might find some valuable information. Check out what other students are saying about the school by using sites such as collegeprowler.com and the other links which you can find on the “Research Launch Pad” which is on your web search and planner.
As you start digging into the various campus offerings and characteristics, you’ll find other characteristics to look for that you hadn’t thought of at first. If you have specific questions that aren’t answered by the website, go ahead and ask someone in admissions.
You can also post such questions on forums like collegeconfidential.com or studentreview.com. When using any such website, be aware that not all posters and answers are equal. People will usually know about one school based on their experiences, very few will actually have experience at two comparable schools. So when someone claims that school A is superior to school B, find out exactly what their experience is with school B.
If you are interested in speaking to a graduate of the school who lives in your area, you can call or email the admissions office and ask them to put you in touch with someone. This may be particularly useful if the school is too far away to travel to and visit.
Researching colleges may be a bit overwhelming so don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I am always happy to help. Make sure to use your college planner so that you can keep track of your progress.