College search begins with guidelines and possibilities

August 03, 2004|by BECKY JEFFERIES/Staff Writer

The quest to find the "perfect" college is, without a doubt, a time-consuming, stress-inducing, argument-evoking, exceptionally imperative process. Futures rest on such a decision, which is enough to make college-bound students and their parents endure sleepless nights weighing the prestigious, costly university against the smaller, less renowned college that offers tempting scholarship money.

The summer before, and even well into my senior year, I, too, lost sleep pondering my options. The outcome ultimately would determine the next four years of my life. Not only was my education at stake, but so were my social life and my parents' savings. With more than 3,600 schools in the country, it was difficult to pinpoint where in the process of elimination I should begin.

Fortunately, my mother already had survived one college entrance process with my older sister and was familiar with ways to learn about schools. She suggested I look to the Internet and my high school guidance office as sources of information.


I began with the College Board Web site ( The site offers an advanced college search comprised of a questionnaire regarding school type, location, campus life, sports and activities, majors and academics, selectivity, cost, financial aid, and admission deadlines. Once the questionnaire is complete, all schools that meet the individual criteria are listed.

The Princeton Review Web site ( was equally informative with its best and worst rankings in the categories of academics, administration, demographics, parties, school type, politics, quality of life, socialization and extracurricular activities. The site also contains a page to which current college students have contributed opinions on aspects of their schools, which provide the reader with unique insight into student life at each particular school.

In addition to Internet sources, I borrowed literature from Boonsboro High School's guidance office on the major I planned to pursue, as well as a book containing general facts about every college and university in the country, categorized by state.

Throughout my search, I was somewhat close-minded because I knew what I wanted. I was looking for a larger university, about 10,000 to 20,000 students, with notable sports teams, competitive admissions, exciting night life, a beautiful campus and an outstanding journalism program. My parents wanted reasonable tuition rates, safety and a feasible distance.

I visited the Web sites of about 12 universities, even those that did not satisfy all of my desired criteria, and printed out all available information. My parents helped me filter out the schools that were too far away or otherwise irrational. This left me with Syracuse University, James Madison University, Clemson University, University of Maryland and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I completed phase one, deciding which schools to apply to, by the end of July 2003. Doing so allowed me time to get several college visits under my belt before school began. I have since decided to attend University of Maryland at College Park in the fall.

To any college-bound seniors and parents, I recommend getting started as early as possible and keeping an open mind.

Becky Jefferies is an intern at The Herald-Mail. For the next few weeks, she will share her experiences on preparing for her first year in college

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