Could your college search begin as a March Madness Bracket sheet? For some students, this may be the perfect way to start building a college list. The key is doing ample research and knowing your colleges just like you know the difference between the @pac12, the @bigten, and the @accmb. While you don't need to look at 64 schools to begin your college journey, look broadly at different types of schools to familiarize yourself with the characteristics, similarities, and differences between schools. Could you even start with schools participating in March Madness? Based on past March Madness years and the buzz around conference play each year, there definitely can be a range of schools to check out from public universities like the University of Michigan, Georgia Tech, Cal State Fullerton to private schools like Gonzaga, TCU or Villanova, or schools you weren't familiar with like Saint Peters.
Building a college list is about synchronizing your interests with what a college offers to form a balanced equation. One side of that equation is coming up with your list of priorities you want for your college experience, which can include the type and breadth of courses offered, retention rate, academic advising, professor-student ratio, flexibility in choosing a major, cost to attend, and even a great basketball team. The other side of the "building your list equation" is sizing up what colleges are looking for in applicants and how they review students. What schools look for can vary widely, and can include, for example, an emphasis on residency, specific interests and talents, recommendations, first generation to attend college, essay, or relation to alumnus. Colleges don't solely rely on statistics like GPA and test scores, but GPA and high school rigor are parts of the holistic methodology colleges use to try and predict if students will succeed on their campus. Colleges want to see their students succeed. Schools also want to learn about added qualities or interests that a student would contribute to their particular campus. Sometimes that is readily apparent by what a student does outside of school and how that reflects a student's values or character. Matching up to a college is a two-way street. It is as much about what a student wants to have as part of their college experience- meeting future friends for life, internships, building career and alumni connections, or a particular type of academic curriculum - as it is about what a college wants. So how do you start to figure out if you're a match?
Here are a few tips to add to what you're already doing:
Read a college's Mission Statement.
Start a list of what you want for your college experience.
Track what each college has at their school - courses, clubs, study abroad, support services, etc.
Look beyond what majors are offered.
Look deep into majors to learn how courses are taught and structured over four years.
See what activities are offered and highlighted.
If a school has a focus on social justice or community engagement and you have dreams of working in a lab or doing research, think about if this is the perfect place to try your hand at something new or if it makes better sense to focus on places that highlight robust undergraduate research opportunities.
While there are approximately 3000 + colleges to look at, the reality is that you're not going to sift through all of them. Defining what specific qualities you are looking for will help you sort through potential colleges to develop a reasonable list to research. Be aware of the "name familiarity" influence. Brennan Barnard explains how "name familiarity" can influence students when choosing colleges to be on their list in his article, "The College Admission Blind Taste Test," and offers thoughts on reframing how to look for colleges. While it may be hard to avert your eyes from rankings or schools with name-brand recognition looking beyond the familiar can help students discover the multitude of colleges that will support their aspirations. Here's a fun fact: schools seeded for March Madness can have an uptick in applications.
Whether you literally explore schools that have teams playing in March Madness or use the bracket structure to look broadly and then narrow down your list of schools to a balanced list, the essential part is to get to know schools well and have a realistic understanding of how well you and the school match. Having a balanced list of likely, best-fit, and reach schools will ensure that you turn the march madness into a college journey that helps you make your shot.
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