Sculpting Your College List

By Sparks Editorial Staff | October 19, 2015

One of our junior Sparks clients recently came back from a week filled with three unofficial visits and was having a hard time figuring out how to proceed with all of the new information he’d learned.

First of all, this is exactly the desired result of these visits! Expecting each school to be either 100% perfect or 100% wrong is unrealistic. This is why pro and con lists – maybe in your head, but hopefully through some notes kept somewhere – are so important.

School A was the perfect fit academically. It had one of the top programs in the field that the student wants to study, a strong history of internship connections, and is located in a thriving hub for that industry. Unfortunately, while academics are certainly a top concern, the school was pretty much lacking for all of his other priorities. The campus was indistinguishable from the city, the coach screamed at his athletes, and his current erg score would give him a chance at the 1V.

School B checked almost all of the boxes: great central campus, amazing academics, and legendary rowing. Should be ideal for any aspiring rower, right? Unfortunately, the rowing part gave him pause – he was intimidated by the size of the collegiate rowers and their amazing steady-state splits. He knows he wants to row in college, and came home worried he would have no place on that team.

The last one the student visited, School C, felt like the Goldilocks option. It’s where his parents went, so it has the legacy element. The rowing team does well but felt much less intimidating. The campus is nice and centralized with the right connections to ideal jobs. It may not be the best school with all elements, but it provides a strong average across all of his priorities.

These experiences are perfect to give more shape to the student’s list. School A can be crossed off – other schools can provide similar academics, but as much as he knows he wants to row in college, he also knows he doesn’t want to row at School A. So, one down.

School C provides a bread-and-butter choice that he can compare other options against. As he adds new schools and experiences to his list, he will continually ask, “How does this new school compare the breadth of ‘pros’ at School C?”

Despite his worries about not being big or strong enough, School B holds an important position on his list. The school could provide a great challenge for him, especially as he continues to improve and grow. The academics, campus, and name-recognition are all higher than School C. Thus, it becomes a “reach” school for him – maybe not the perfect or most comfortable fit, but college is about a lot more than being comfortable. He may decide over the next year that he is ready to really push outside of his comfort zone.

Refining your college list can – and should – require some hard choices and internal arguments. Whether you find a deal-breaker, a very comfortable vibe, or even get a little scared, all of those feelings mean you are taking an active role in your college search. Like the clay for a sculpture, continually working your list through adding, subtracting, and shaping will unveil a clearer idea of what you want and which schools could be your best fit.

- Nate Rooks