College Matchmaking: Tips from a Graduate!
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College match-making can be difficult, no matter how thoroughly you’ve Google-researched your higher-education choices. However, you’re not the only Mercy girl struggling to understand where you belong in the college-world. Mercy alumna Zoe Kempf-Harris has answered some of the many questions that arise during the long and arduous college search. Finding the perfect college may not be simple, but understanding what you’re looking for is a great start.
Q: During the earliest freshman seminar sessions at Mercy, school counselors encourage freshman to join a large number of clubs to impress colleges. As a freshman, did you join all of the clubs you wanted to? Or did you go beyond? What really drew you to the clubs you chose while at Mercy—the teachers involved, the other students in it, your friends’ involvement, the aforementioned advice, etc.?
A: Well, initially, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend joining a large number of clubs to everyone. For instance, my freshman year, I was involved in Ensemble and Writing Workshop, and that was it! Rather than joining numerous clubs that I might only have partial interest in, I wanted to invest myself deeply in one or two so that I could focus my energies into learning as much as possible in the areas of music and creative writing. I suppose I was drawn to these clubs in particular because I had great interest in the subjects.
Q: Students tend to take the SAT and ACT tests multiple times to raise their scores. Some even spend money on classes to prepare for these tests. Do you think students should mold their test scores to fit the expectations of their college choices, or should they mold their college choices to fit their test scores?
A: I’d say this question can really only be answered well on a case-by-case basis. As for me, I did not take an SAT class (using an SAT prep book and practice tests instead) and decided—after receiving my scores—that I would only take the SAT once. My math score was not quite what I’d have liked it to be—it was the lowest possible score at which I’d consider not taking the test again! But, fully considering the schools to which I wanted to apply, I decided that my math score was really an accurate representation of my math skills. I took multiple practice tests and was averaging around the same score. The only reason I would have taken the test again would have been if I’d done significantly worse than I expected to based on my practice scores. It doesn’t help if I’m only taking the test again in the hopes I get lucky and perform uncharacteristically well. Therefore, for me, it wasn’t worth it to retake the test. Ultimately, I neither molded my test scores (which isn’t really possible, other than through copious studying) or my college options. I basically said, “this is me, this is what I can do, and now I will find a college I like that accepts this.”
Q: When you started applying, what schools were you initially interested in? Do you think college visits are an absolute imperative when choosing a school to attend? After visits, were you interested in schools you initially didn’t focus on? Did you lose any interest in schools you initially liked? Did you visit all of the colleges you applied to before making a choice? What about your chosen school?
A: As I began applying, I developed a certain range of tiers to categorize the colleges I was considering. There was a tier for safety schools, which were extremely feasible both academically and financially, a tier for schools I thought I had a decent chance of getting into, and a tier of reach schools that I didn’t necessarily expect to admit me. I was largely interested in liberal arts schools that placed a strong emphasis on academics, as that was my priority throughout the search. College visits are not necessarily imperative, but I would highly recommend visiting schools, as that is the best way to get a sense of where you’ll fit in. Listen to and learn the values of the school, and look around and see what a typical student looks like. As a result of some visits, I recognized that some schools would not be the right fit for me (you should even be prepared for seemingly stupid objections to have significant importance in your decision—for example, if a school had too much brick in the architecture, I became swiftly less enamored of it!). Finding out what doesn’t work for you is just as valuable as finding out what does. As my total number of school applications came to thirteen, it helped to discover early on that I was no longer interested in applying to certain schools. You can get a good sense of a school from the admission tours, and even just walking around campus can let you know if you could envision yourself living there for four years.
Q: If you didn’t visit your chosen school before attending, were your expectations met when you first arrived on campus? Was it a culture shock?
A: I did visit my chosen school before attending, but I’d say that the experience of first arriving on any campus could be deemed a “culture shock.” The adjustment from high school to college is a big one, so I’d definitely say it would be nice to see the campus at least once before move-in day, just so you have some familiarity with the layout. As for it meeting my expectations, I’d say it did, but largely because I kept my expectations very open throughout the entire process. I knew what it was about the school that drew me to it, but beyond that, I allowed myself to be surprised by all the interesting quirks and eccentricities that my college has to offer.
Q: Do you think introverts fare better on larger or smaller college campuses? Does campus size make a difference?
A: I consider myself to be somewhat of an introvert, and I’m currently on a campus with about 5,500 undergraduates. Ultimately, you can make college the right size for you, depending on the largeness of your circle of acquaintances and the number of extra-curriculars you decide to pursue. I find that my campus is large enough that it will be impossible to know everyone, but I still run into a number of people I know on the way to my classes. This creates an atmosphere that is both exciting and friendly, and I find that to suit me best. One thing to consider is class size, as that size is largely dictated for you. Larger colleges might offer a greater number of lecture-style classes, which can be more intimidating size-wise, but have less active participation than perhaps seminars would. In the end, it’s a matter of creating your own space and choosing the specific classes that work best for you.
Q: Many students try to find colleges with good programs of their interest before they focus on other aspects of colleges like clubs, student life, etc. During the college search, did you focus on schools’ academic aspects before their social aspects, or did you try to keep both in mind?
A: I personally was very committed to the academics of the school, but during my visit, I had the opportunity to hang out with a number of students and have conversations I’d be excited to have for the next four years. I’d say that considering the academic level is a great way to find other students with similar interests, so the social element will likely fall into place.
Q: Coming into high school, students tend to have an interest in more well-known colleges because they think it will look better on their job resumes. Based on your current experiences, do you think the college a student gets their degree from has a big impact on employment or internship opportunities?
A: I would not advise choosing a school based on how well known it is alone. The focus should be more on who you want to be after college as a potential intern or employee than the degree itself. You want to pick the college that—based on academic, extracurricular, and social opportunities—will make you a more well-rounded person that institutions would love to hire.
Q: Should students aim for colleges that offer more internship/employment opportunities than others during the college search?
A: I think, ultimately, one should focus on the academics of the school—though campus resources in finding internship/employment opportunities can be helpful, you are able to look for such things on your own. The academics and general campus environment should come first, because the level of study and the overall community will prepare you for any opportunities you may come across. Internship/employment opportunities are definitely something to consider as a bonus, but academics and how well you feel you’d fit in should definitely be the priority.
Q: Do you have any final advice for students stressing over the college search?
A: People are going to tell you not to stress. That is good advice, but it is also impossible to follow. You are going to stress, about submitting applications, about waiting to find out, about choosing between schools. Your grades are what your grades are, and your essays are what your essays are… even still, there is an arbitrariness to the college admissions process that you just can’t account for! Rather than praying to get into a specific college, I honestly just hoped that things would work out as they should. I didn’t want to get into a school I couldn’t handle—I just wanted to get into the best school for me. Just know—whatever happens at the end of all this—it will work out the way it’s supposed to. Great job, and good luck!