Researching Colleges

Given that many colleges are now tracking student contacts as a measure of “demonstrated interest” in the institution, it is important initially to contact the admission offices at the colleges in which you are interested in order to get on their mailing lists.  However, the most important aspect of that contact is not the impression left on the admissions office but the information you will gain on each college or university of interest.  When a student makes any kind of inquiry with a college admissions office, s/he is placed on that college’s mailing list.  This ensures receipt of any information requested initially and also of any updates or other pieces deemed useful by that college’s admission staff.  College research is an ongoing process. Changing one’s mind, or discovering new points of interest, is very common as one proceeds through the next eighteen to twenty-four months.  You will change and grow over this time period.  This growth may alter your perspective on what you desire in a college.

Because of this fact, it is recommended that you acquire and maintain a good library of resources.  A general guidebook containing factual information on colleges is a good starting piece.  The College Board’s College Handbook, Barron’s, and Peterson’s Guides are three of the most popular publications.

Supplementing this information will be the materials sent to you directly from the college or university.  Although some material may come without your solicitation, it is best to contact each college in which you have interest and request material.   It is not unusual to request this information from a large number of institutions.  Remember that you will be narrowing this list considerably over time.   You want to start with a large enough number to allow yourself considerable choice.  10-15 inquiries are usually a minimum and some students may make inquiries at as many as 50 institutions.

The best ways to contact college admission offices are through e-mail or on the internet.  They then will have a formal request to start a file, and you can move through the process easily and cost effectively.    These inquiries  need not  be  written  personally to  any member of  the admission staff.  Admission Deans and Directors are far too busy to look over and read general inquiry letters or e-mails.   They also understand and support the notion that you are doing research on a great number of schools.  A form letter, such as on the next page, is perfectly acceptable. In some cases, on-line contact will not even allow for such a letter.  Make sure that any contact includes the following information:  your name (written in the same format at all times), address, the fact that you attend Eastside Prep and your graduating class.  Also feel free to include any specific academic or extracurricular interests.   If the college has information pieces on those areas, they will include them in your packet.  The point now is not to make personal contact with anyone, but instead to gather information as efficiently as possible.

Once you receive this information, read it carefully.   You are considering living there for the next four years!  It is your education, and your reading on the school outweighs anyone else’s thoughts.  Others will be there to help you, and their thoughts and recommendations are important.  However, you must gain enough insight to each institution to allow for intelligent, informed discussion and decision- making. After reading the material, devise a filing system and keep all of this information. You will want to go back and consult this material over time.

There  are  numerous  other  books  available  to  prospective college  students.    The  more subjective guides to colleges such as The Yale Insider’s Guide, Fiske’s Guide, or The New York Times Guide are popular.   These publications can be entertaining and helpful, as each college’s promotional piece often is filled only with positives.  Be careful to recognize two facts:  These books are other people’s interpretations and inherently are filled with biases.  If the author prefers city life to rural areas, s/he may rate the quality of life at University of Southern California above that of the University of Colorado. You may not agree. Also, these books are put together over time.  A problem on one campus at the time of publication may be solved by the time you are looking.  Use these publications as supplements to your own research, and never lose sight of the priorities you have set for your search.