First off: Congrats, you made it through the first semester!! Phew, finals are finally over and stress is released. Or is it? Are people starting to pester you about which colleges you’re applying to (hell, it’s only spring of junior year!!)?
Parents, do your kids respond with blank stares and fidgeting when you raise the topic of maybe going on some college visits? We know college seems about a million years away, but before you'll know it, it will be your senior year in the blink of an eye. Here are some tips on how you can get started exploring.
1. Observe yourself. Figure out which classroom style works for you by noting how you feel in your classes. Are you dreading stepping into your history class, where time seems to stand still? Do you find yourself amazed at how quickly those chemistry experiments make time fly? Is there a pattern behind the classes you love vs the ones that bore you to tears? Colleges offer a variety of learning environments from massive lecture halls to tiny Socratic seminars, from theoretical learning to outside of the classroom hands-on application. So, start observing: which learning and classroom style works for you?
2. Take a trip. You don’t need to know anything at all to pop over to some local colleges just to get a feel for what in the world this whole university thing might be about. Gather a variety of experiences by visiting a large public university, a medium-sized private university, and a tiny private university. But - don't just wander about aimlessly! Sign up for a free tour on their website before you go to maximize your experience. Immediately after each visit, make a list - and I mean right away, literally take a seat on a bench on campus and jot down in your phone notes what you loved, what you hated, and what was confusing. Start sorting through your lists and see if a pattern emerges. Suggestions:
For a large public university, check out UCI or UCLA. For a medium-sized private university, check out Chapman or LMU. For a tiny private university, check out Soka University.
3. Find your fit. College will be your LIFE for four years (although you should also explore gap year options, community colleges, trade schools, etc - the options are endless depending on what inspires you!). So when you're thinking about which colleges to apply to, don't hinge your entire decision on only academics, or only the party scene, or only the quality of the dorms. But DO factor ALL of these in. Food for thought: Think about majors, minors, school size, classroom size, internship and research opportunities, study abroad, weather, parties, location, student organizations, Greek life, sports, school spirit, classroom style, financial fit, and infinitely many more criteria to determine your college fit.
4. Write it out. Colleges typically ask you to dive deep into your interests, your values, and what makes you generally tick: and those require some deep insight. So get a journal, a notebook, use a google doc, Trello, phone notes, anything. The point is to create a dedicated space for you to start pondering those big questions and figuring out what works for you (also, this area works as a great space to remember all of those volunteering and extra things that you did, which will be handy in your college applications).
5. Trust your gut. Where can you become who you truly are? Only you know that, but when bombarded by millions of questions and opinions from friends, family, teachers, and social media, it can be hard to think straight. If you strip everything and everyone away, what is left at the core of what you need in life? What drives you? A rewarding work-life balance? An intense desire to dive deep into research? A hope for a busy life that school is only a small part of? Whatever it is, do a mindfulness exercise, go to a yoga class, wander the beach. Find that place of calm within you where you can be with yourself and connect to your own deeper needs, not everyone else’s thoughts and fears and desires for you.
Trust. Your. Own. Gut. Feeling. This is, after all, your life, and your process.
Resources: Good Fit College List Criteria
Fear not: the Strive to Learn college counselors are well versed in helping you wade through the morass of college-related information overload. We thrive on helping on making order from chaos. And we can't wait to help support you in finding your path to your very own, unique future.