According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are presently more than 3,000 four-year colleges in the U.S. With such a large volume of schools to choose from, how can a prospective college student begin to distill the monumental amount of information related to these offerings? One solution is drawn not from a focus on schools and their particular merits, but rather on a clear and honest personal assessment of a student’s motivations, aspirations, personality and preferences. In essence, the college search is less school-centered and more student-oriented with regard to finding the proper fit. Establishing a compass that relies on a laser-sharp student profile acts as the most effective guide to uncovering a personalized college list.
The process of self-discovery includes personality features and interest preferences as they relate to pursuing higher education. The basics include answering questions that will help you focus your college search, including:
• What am I interested in? Which academic subjects have I enjoyed and excelled in?
• How do I spend my free time? What skills am I developing that I can employ during college?
• What do I feel passionate about? What activities are rewarding and would I like to continue?
• How do I learn best? Do I prefer interactive smaller settings or larger, lecture presentations?
• What do I think I want to do in the future? How will college help me achieve my goals?
To add a systematic approach, a formal interest inventory can highlight preferences and their connection to college majors and professional careers. Formal interest inventories, such as The Strong Interest Inventory, have an extensive history of connecting-the-dots with respect to pointing students towards a college major and course of study that correlates to their preferences. Given that college students are apt to change their major, some multiple times, it works to their advantage to identify the link between their personal preferences and those of students who have already pursued and fulfilled requirements within specific college majors. Taking this vital step removes some of the trial-and-error that occurs on college campuses as students try to navigate academic disciplines in search of a desirable major. Equally important is the information gained that helps target specific colleges and rule out others based on program availability.
In brief, leading the college search off with a clear picture of a student’s personal preferences and anticipated objectives gives the proper frame of reference to judge potential college matches. While the list of potential colleges may seem overwhelming, the actual detective work to pair school to student can be effectively managed once a student gains knowledge about their own abilities, character and personal preferences. Self-discovery yields personalized details that allow students to move with confidence and greater knowledge onto the next step in the college search.
Tony Moschella is an independent educational consultant for University College Advisors.