Think about it this way: You're trying to match two elements--yourself and a college. While it can be tempting to start looking at different schools right away, take some time to get to know yourself better. This involves taking stock of more concrete things like your academic standing, and thinking about the more intangible parts of you: your personality, your likes and dislikes, and what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable. If you begin your search with a solid understanding of yourself, it will be easier to figure out what you should look for in a college.
Figure Out Your Academic Profile
College is about more than just academics, but taking classes, doing well, and learning is a significant chunk of what you'll be doing. And you want to make sure that you go to a college that challenges you without being overwhelming. When the admissions officers read through your application, they'll also be thinking about this and will be trying to figure out how well you'll be matched up with the college's academic profile. Other criteria will be important as well--your involvement outside of class, your drive and ambition, and the diversity of your experience--but how well you do in school and on standardized tests are important considerations.
Try to be as honest as possible as you think about your academic profile. If your grades and standardized test scores aren't so great, that's okay, and there are many colleges where you can be accepted, learn a lot, and have a great time. But if you apply to schools that don't match your academic profile, you risk not having enough choices when it comes time to make your final decision.
Here are some questions you should consider. Their purpose is to get you thinking about where you stand academically and what college environment will be the best match for you:
- How difficult are your high school courses and how well have you done in them?
- What were your PSAT, SAT, or ACT scores? (You can always improve these, but think about how you compare generally to the other college applicants.)
- Are you taking any advanced-placement (AP) classes?
- How do you measure up to your peers? Are you one of the top students, near the top, or somewhere in the middle?
- How curious are you about knowledge and learning in general?
- Do you have good study habits and an ability to discipline yourself and work independently? (It wouldn't hurt any of us to have better study habits, but think about how well you work on your own and how you handle difficult assignments.)
- How do you deal with pressure?
- Are you organized, good at managing your time, and prioritizing?
- Are you good at seeking help with schoolwork when you need it?