Getting into College Made Easy: How to Pick the Best College

Barry Lenson

Getting into College Made Easy: How to Pick the Best College

How to Pick the Best College Every year, thousands of high school students scour college guides, visit countless college websites, and tour dozens of colleges. Many of them are hoping to find the perfect school.

Of course everybody wants to end up at the best college possible. But the fact is, finding the “perfect” college is usually not an achievable goal. And if you have set that as your objective, you could be setting yourself up to feel a lot of unnecessary pressure.

Here’s a story that illustrates the point . . .


  • Jack and his family toured dozens of colleges during his senior hear of high school. One was Bates and another was Colgate. Jack applied to both schools, got accepted at both, and then made his decision. He would go to Bates! The following September, Jack and his family drove up to Maine to get him installed in his dorm. But when they got there, Jack looked out the window and said, “I’m not going here! This is not the place I picked!”  Here’s the explanation. Colgate and Bates had somehow gotten swapped in Jack’s mind. And on that day in September, he was locked in to start college at the wrong school! But do you know what? Jack moved into his dorm, started going to classes, and absolutely loved Bates, even though it was not Colgate!

Even though the name of the student has been changed in the story above, it is 100% true! So the lesson is that all the best planning in the world doesn’t guarantee that you will end up at the school of your dreams. Then there’s the fact that students are transferring at near-record numbers every year now. Many get to schools that they thought would be ideal, but learn otherwise and move on.

Even though many students do manage to land at schools they love on the first try, it is difficult. After all, it is virtually impossible to find a perfect college by reading about it in books, visiting its website, and even going to visit.  Let’s face realities. You can never know what a school will be like until you move in and start classes. Trying to pick a perfect college through the standard college-search process is actually like trying to pick the best tablet computer by reading reviews in Consumer Reports. Although you might come close, the device you finally get is going to be a lot different from the one you imagined. The same thing is true for college.

You might not find the perfect school, but you can still find a great one! One approach is to forget perfection and follow these steps . . .

  • Apply to “clusters” of schools that meet certain criteria and requirements. For example, you could apply to four universities that have great engineering programs or strong offerings in the visual arts. Or if you are an environmentalist, you can apply to a cluster of colleges that have on-campus farms. Then when your acceptance letters come in, you can weigh how you did your clusters, not in your acceptance to your perfect college.
  • Remember, your choice is not final. Of course you want to make a good choice and hit it right the first time. But if you don’t find your dream school on your first try, you can transfer.
  • Try to see college as one step in a larger process. Maybe you didn’t do well in high school and want to go to a less competitive college for a few years, earn good grades, and then transfer out. Or maybe you think you want to study fine arts, but aren’t too sure. So you are attending a college with a great fine arts program to test out that choice. If it doesn’t work out, you can move to another school. Life is always in flux, and it is realistic to see your college experience as part of that flow.

This advice is probably different from what you are hearing from your guidance counselor, your teachers, your friends, and possibly your parents too. But when you come right down to it, the secret of a successful college search is to try to fulfill your own expectations, not those of all those other people, right?  Another secret is to go through your search with an open mind, and a sense of adventure and discovery.

And once you make your best possible choice and land on campus, you will probably make a great discovery. Even though your new college might not be just what you expected – and it might not be heaven – it will still probably be the best possible place for you to further your education and your career.

Congratulations, you have arrived!


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