The college search can be hard even to think about. For starters, the thought of leaving home and living on your own can be scary. And, the rising cost of tuition forces some to consider other options. By the time you’re a junior, you practically have to know where you would like to go and what you want to major in. These are big decisions, and trying to get decent grades while searching for the perfect college can be a major issue.
There are a number of key elements involved in beginning your college search. In my case, during the summer before sophomore year I participated in a volunteer program at Baystate Medical Center where I helped nurses and doctors in a day surgery facility. I found this was something I was interested in and decided that I would like to pursue a medical career. That summer officially kicked off my college search process.
After deciding that I wanted to go with pre-medicine as a major and also taking the PSATs and SATs in the fall of my junior year, I began receiving tons of mail from schools, most of which I had never heard of. Each brochure had pictures of the campus with students smiling and sprawling on the grass in front of a gigantic building on a beautiful sunny day. It did not take me long to realize that these colleges were just trying to sell themselves, but I am not just looking for a pretty campus with lots of smiling students. I want more. I need more.
I need a school that will make me feel at home even when the days are not sunny, but mostly, I need a school that will help prepare me for medical school. These brochures helped me to make the decision that I want to go to school either near Boston (because I love it) or Tampa (because I could work on my golf game year round, which is impossible in New England).
With the help of the Fiske Guide to Colleges, I was able to find the schools in those areas that offer pre-medical majors, or pre-medical advisory (a school that allows you to major in whatever you like while still preparing you for medical school). Knowing that I want to focus on schools in eastern Massachusetts and central Florida, I was able to narrow my list fairly easily. Knowing that getting into medical school requires a degree from a competitive college helped me narrow the list even more.
Not only was I just looking through books, but I was also visiting websites with surveys to help me figure out which colleges fit me best. Every survey I took came up with the same answers, telling me that I had the grades and ability to get into a very competitive university. They would then list schools in the areas: Boston College, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Northeastern University, the University of Southern Florida at Tampa, and a few others. After I realized that if I really tried, I could get into these schools, I added UMASS Boston, Tufts University, the University of Tampa and Dartmouth College.
Now that I had my list of schools, it was time to visit. So far, because of my hectic schedule, I have only visited Boston College and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. I plan to visit the rest soon. Campus Visits and College Interviews advises to visit campuses during peak student times because colleges offer group sessions and open houses where you can meet deans and talk to students who are majoring in what you’re interested in.
After visiting these two schools that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, I learned about their courses and what campus life is like. I really enjoyed both, but am leaning toward Boston College since the campus is larger.
The next step, and hopefully the last major part, is the application. I believe that nothing is worse than being rejected, especially from a college I really want to go. The Gatekeepers (by Jacques Steinberg) takes you through the admissions process and explains what admissions officers are looking for. And it’s more than just grades! They want to know about your personality and character. They are looking for students who will not only be able to receive a quality education at their school, but also give something back.
My college search has been somewhat difficult. There is so much more involved than I realized, and I am still not even close to being done. The applications include pages and pages of endless fill-ins, and then on top of it all, an essay that will tell the admissions officers what kind of person I am. Many colleges now use the Common Application, a standard application with five essay questions from which to choose. My fear of the admissions essay is right up there with my fear of the rejection letter. This basically can make or break your application.
I feel that my high school education has prepared me well, so I am ready for the application process, including the essay and interviews. I know I am ready but I also know that what I do in the next few years will be a major factor in determining the rest of my life, and that scares me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.