EducationUSA Mentorship Program

Choosing an Undergraduate School

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One of the most valuable traits of American education is its abundance of choice. There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Most of them offer studies in many different areas so your friends can be in the physics, pre-medical, design art or music departments. Some schools have particular strengths or a particularly strong department. Some schools attract a certain kind of student – the artist, the geik, the rebel, the engineer, the writer, but most colleges want to have a good mix. Some schools are more diverse than others with students from few or many countries and religions. Some are in quiet areas and others are in or near big cities.


Some schools have personality just like people. They can be “geeky”, “artsy”, “music”, or something else. Most undergraduate schools though have ALL types of students – music, engineering, history. Schools make an effort to build a diverse community of learners.


Most likely, there is more than 1, 5 or 10 right schools for you.  Your first task is to find them.


During this workshop, mentorship participants will go through a four-step process in selecting a list of schools they wish to apply to. Some participants may already have a desired school but decide they want to add to it more options. Others, may start the process from scratch.


The following references are sourced from the book College Admission from Application to Acceptance, step by step by Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde.




  • Research Yourself
  • Research the Schools
  • Make a List
  • Balance Your List


Step 1: Research Yourself

Before you choose a school, you start with examining who you are. This is a difficult and lifelong process but that doesn’t mean you should not start it. Don’t be scared to ask yourself difficult and open-ended questions. Just because a question doesn’t have an answer or has many conflicting answers, doesn’t mean it is the wrong question to ask. Your ability to understand yourself is important in the way you make choices in every aspect of your life.


Think of what you like to do, how you imagine yourself in the future, what are your interests, preferences and priorities.  Do you like books or do you like the outdoors more, or both? Do you like the art scene or do you like to be near commercial and trading centers? Do you like the sea or the mountain. Do you like to be in a small or large group? Are you academically superior, great or a future rock star?


Some questions to ask yourself:



  1.     What is your favorite thing to do?
  2.     Which activity do you pursue outside of school that gives you meaning?
  3.     What do you hate to do?
  4.     Is there a career/job you have always dreamed of?
  5.     What are the first words that come to you when you describe yourself?
  6.     What do you consider your coolest trait?
  7.     Do you like the busy or quiet places?
  8.     What are you known for at school?
  9.     Who is your favorite teacher and why?
  10. What has been the greatest challenge in high school?



  1.     What are your grades and how do they compare to the rest of the school?
  2.     What is the most interesting class you took?
  3.     What are your strongest subjects/classes?
  4.     What are your academic weaknesses?
  5.     Are you happy when you are a) very challenged b) moving up with the rest of your classmates and c) learning comfortably at the top of your class?
  6.     Do you have any learning disability that has posed a challenge for you?
  7.     Do you feel more comfortable in a a) large lecture class or b)small study group?
  8.     What schedule do you prefer?
  9.     Do you have an idea what you want to study?
  10. Is there an activity you want to start or continue in college?


….and so you have A PICTURE OF YOURSELF NOW

Once you have considered these questions, a certain picture will emerge.  The next step will be to write down a shorter list of your personal and academic priorities. Make a list of 4-6 priorities. If you have more than a dozen, go back and try to summarize. For example, you realize it is very important to you to study engineering, but you want to continue playing the guitar or sing in a choir or gamelan, you want to be close to a city but not in the middle of the city. You like to be challenged but not constantly and your grades are very good but not great.



There are many ways you can narrow down your choice of college:

  • Someone you know went there or is there now
  • You have heard of it or read about it
  • You went to a college fair where the college was represented
  • Guidebooks which have plenty of information online. Look up online:
  • Peterson’s Guide
  • Fiske Guide to Colleges
  • The best 378 Colleges bt Princeton review
  • Big Book of Colleges by College Prowler
  • Colleges that Change Lives: 40 schools that will change the way you think about Colleges, by Loren Pope (list of these colleges is here.)


There are other sources of information on colleges such as:, a social network where college students post reviews, photos, etc.


We encourage you to do a careful internet search but do not forget to watch out for school-rankings. Watch out for social media or otherwise personal opinions. Don’t forget they are personal.



You have made your short list of priorities. You have researched schools and now it’s time to match your list to priorities to your list of schools. See which school matches MOST of your priorities. Make sure to include considerations of size, location, people, references, availability for scholarship. That list may still be long.



In this last step you will have to evaluate your academic record and match it to the requirement of the school. You will need to bring considerations of financing and scholarships. Can you afford it? Does the school offer scholarships? Perhaps you have already contacted admissions officers and asked these questions. Your list has to be realistic and affordable. Time to make the final list.

January 22, 2015

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