As I sit here reading applications from all of the seniors interested in Whitman for the fall I can not help but page forward on my calendar a little bit to April. This is when I will get to be out on the road again. This is the time of the year that I get to work with juniors specifically. I like this because the juniors have a broader perspective on the college search process; I am able to be identified as more of an advisor and counselor. As a junior, and especially sophomore, you are not expected to have it all figured out right now. My first tip for you in the college search process is to utilize the Whitman Admission Office and our thousands of colleagues on college and high school campuses dedicated to helping you out. You would honestly be amazed how much we know, how helpful we can be and how nice we are.
There are a few big questions you want to ask yourself in the early phases of your search. The first is, “How has high school been for me?” Depending on your answer you want to evaluate what has made you happy and/or discontent. “Do I want a similar experience in college, or one that could not be more different?” Building on what you know is good, but college is also a great time to try new things. “Do I want to stay close to home, or try out a new location further away?” Laundry at home and Sunday dinners are hard to beat, but exploration and the unknown can be alluring. “Am I determined to be awestruck by the bright lights of a city, or do I want to bask in the purity of unobstructed moonlight?” Both types of environments are home to some of the best schools in the world. “Do I want to go somewhere with national attention for its size, or somewhere where I will get attention as a member of the community?” Football games, sprawling campuses and thousands of new people are really exciting. It is also really cool to know others and be known, have dinner at your professor’s house and walk to class in seven minutes no matter where it is or you are on campus. Lastly, “Do I want to be somewhere with a specific focus or population?” The institutes of technology, religious, single sex and historically Black colleges make deep impacts on their students, as do the schools with a little bit of everything and everybody. These are the first questions and the most important. You will hear it until you are tired of hearing it, “College is all about fit!” You need to be happy with the place you are for the next four years.
You also want to think about academics. This has a few meanings. There is the obvious question of, “What do I want to do as a career and study in college to get there?” If you have an idea, look for schools with programs in what you want to study which meet your qualifications above. If you are undecided look for places which have a variety of offerings, or where you can take a whole assortment of subjects. Next, you want to objectively ask, “How have I performed academically over the last few years?” You either need to keep the momentum going, or pull it together to be where you know you should be. Colleges are very interested in your grades and like to see you consistently doing well or having your grades rise as time goes on. Lastly, senior year is a blank canvas at this point, choose your classes wisely. “Where can I continue to challenge myself?” “What subjects do I want to explore as I prepare for college?” “Am I interested in these subjects, and do I look interesting to colleges?” “What will I be able to handle with all my activities and college applications to prepare?” Senior year is a perfect time to push yourself with the rigor of your courses, check out the coveted electives offered, show colleges what you are all about, but also avoid burning out. College will not be any fun if you do not make it through senior year.
OK, you have some reflecting to do. Pick a rainy/snowy day, pick a period of time over a long weekend or school break, pick people’s brains. Just make it happen. We, I, Whitman, our thousands of colleagues are all here for you. I look forward to seeing you on the road and answering some of your very important questions about Whitman. You can actually see where the whole Whitman Admission team will be this spring at: http://www.whitman.edu/content/admission/whitman-on-the-road/travel/?state=all&range=current