The only constant in the Fall 2021 college admissions season is the stress.
A UNCW admissions officer described this year to me like this: “College admissions season is like driving down a narrow mountain road, but this year the mountain is moving from side to side.” SAT cancellations, on-campus quarantines, and hybrid classes make the decision of where to go to college more challenging, but it also requires us to think more carefully about which school is the right fit.
Choosing a college is part science: making sure they have the academic major or extracurricular activities of your choice, in the location you like, with the opportunities you seek. But choosing the “right” school for you is also very much an art, requiring seniors and their families to ask deeply self-reflective questions perhaps never asked before.
- What do I want for my life? To be a leader in the workplace? A career with a focus on helping others? A job that allows for flexibility?
- Can I go somewhere unfamiliar?
- What am I good at? What motivates me?
- Have I faced any real obstacles so far? What did I learn?
- Do I want a community like I have now, or do I want a change? Where do I want to fit in?
- Am I socially self-sufficient or do I need warm, familial support?
- Do I care about prestige and reputation?
- Will I be spending most of my time with friends or in the library researching?
- Can I live in a city? Can I live in a rural town?
- What worries me about the future? What am I excited about?
- Who do I want to be? What does God want me to be?
To look at it another way, finding the “college of best fit” is a search for authenticity. There are tools, surveys, books, companies, and college counselors, but the only way to find the answer is to find some key information about yourself.
If we discover we need a strong community with accessible mentorship, small liberal arts schools will be added to our shortlist instead of a bigger school where we can find ourselves lost in a crowd. But if one of the smaller schools is in Boiling Springs, NC, we may take it off, prioritizing the amenities and internship opportunities of a city. If your goal is to help people, we can look to the medical field, for example. But if the sight of blood makes you queasy, perhaps a career in the growing field of physical therapy.
The research process can be very time-consuming. Students shouldn’t fall into the trap of looking at themselves and the institutions at the same time. They should know themselves first and then look for a match. Students will benefit from being able to understand themselves first, which will also impact how students approach their essays. Instead of trying to convey why they are a good fit for the college, they will discuss why the college is a good fit for them. Then we can begin looking at stats like 4-year retention rate, medical school admission percentages, post-graduation employment numbers, professor engagement and credentials, student feedback, ACT and GPA averages, diversity, etc.
By the end of this decision process, my goal for students is a list of 5 schools, and each school, even if they are a safety, possesses every factor they require in a college.
James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” With any decision, we place Jesus at the center for guidance. College admissions can be harsh, with gatekeepers rejecting applicants based on numbers and a quick read through an essay. We must remember, and remind our students, that our true value is found in Christ and not in college placement. God provides discernment in our decision-making; we must rely on His wisdom to set the course of our life. Self-reflection is asking ourselves “What did God make me to be?”