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5 Steps to Finding Your Dream College

The hunt for your dream college can be rough, I’ll give you that. But, it doesn’t have to be. I believe that everyone should be able to go to the college of their dreams or at least one very close to it. People say that the 4 years you spend in college are the pinnacle of your adolescence. They should never be wasted on a college you feel just so-so about!

Dartmouth College took me completely by surprise when I discovered it was my actual dream college. I had originally set my eyes on Stanford University (for about 4 years actually). But, after a visit on a west coast college tour, I realized I only had lukewarm feelings toward it.

However, Dartmouth swept me off my feet the moment I drove into the campus. Dartmouth met every vision that I had of my dream college. I’m sure I wouldn’t have landed on this treasure if not for these 5 steps.

If you’re knee-deep in the dream college search, or just starting, follow the tips below and you’ll narrow down your choices by far.

5 Steps to Finding Your Dream College

How to Find Your Dream College

1. START WITH A CLEAN SLATE

I had been enamored with the idea of Stanford University since I was 12 and my mom took me there while she was on a business trip. My expectations and imagination ran wild for 4 years, and when I returned at 16, I was disappointed by the reality.

If you’re hanging on to any college for whatever reason (parents are alumni, you saw it in a TV show once, etc) you’re going to have to get comfortable with the idea that it might end up not being the best fit. Make sure you haven’t fallen in love with the idea of a college.

Instead, you should keep a completely open mind. Don’t start your college search leaning one way or another just yet. You’ll need to ask yourself some questions first, which brings me to my next point.

2. SET YOUR STANDARDS

In order to weed out your dream college from the thousands you have to choose from, you should already have an idea of what you want by the time you start your heavy searching. Jot down what you see yourself doing in college, what it looks like, etc. Basically everything you imagine college being.

You need to set up the standards of your ideal college. You must do this in order to ensure that you’re finding the college that fits YOU, and not trying to fit yourself into a college that isn’t for you. 

 Can you answer these questions?

WHAT TYPE OF ACADEMIC PLAN?

It can be hard to pick an academic plan when you’ve never actually been to college before. You can divide up colleges and their academic curricula into two main categories: Liberal Arts colleges and Universities.

Liberal Arts colleges value the arts, humanities, and the sciences. They emphasize having a well-rounded education that requires a wider breadth of knowledge.

Universities are much larger schools that usually focus more on research. You are typically fixed in the major you choose and won’t need to branch out to other topics if you don’t want to.

DO THEY TREAT YOUR MAJOR WELL?

Some schools will teach your major differently or better than others. With my major, Cognitive Science, one college had a more technological approach to it and another took a scientific approach. I wanted the scientific approach. These nuances are important to take note of.

Some schools also teach certain majors better than others. I wouldn’t recommend going to a school that hardly pays attention to their Psychology department if you’re trying to major in that exact subject.

If you are undecided, narrow your major choices to at least 2-3 and research the top ranking colleges in those majors. You can even dig a little deeper into the colleges by looking at where graduates who studied your major are now.

WHAT TYPE OF CAMPUS SETTING?

There are three types of colleges: Rural, Suburban, and Urban. Each have their pros and cons and you want to choose carefully. Check out College Board’s page on the characteristics of each campus.

WHAT TYPE OF CAMPUS VIBE?

Do you love partying or are you a tad more reserved? Maybe you’re a monogram junky, and a preppy school would be good for you. Or maybe you’re a hipster and want to go to a school that really values social activism and staying #woke. Whatever the case, find the campus vibe that appeals most to your personality. College is for finding your people, your tribe, you know? You can’t do that if it’s difficult to relate to 90% of the student body!

You can include lots of other criteria in your college search, too. Maybe you plan on playing varsity sports and want a D1 level school. Proximity to home is another good one. I made sure I moved far away from the South!

How to Find the Colleges:

After you’ve set your standards, it’s time to find the colleges that meet them. Start with the broadest standard. This would be the academic plan or campus setting. The easiest thing to do is search rankings. If you’ve chosen the Liberal Arts curriculum, search “Liberal Arts college rankings” in Google.

Cut your coat according to your size and choose the colleges your high school performance best meets.

Then, narrow your search down further. Once you’ve chosen around 20 colleges, start checking out where each college is, where they rank in your particular area(s) of studies, and so on until you’ve whittled down your choice of colleges to the cream of the crop.

3. CREATE A HIERARCHY

After you’ve set your standards and found maybe 5 to 10 colleges that meet a majority, if not all of them, you need to create a hierarchy. Categorize the colleges by how close they meet your criteria. I also ended up ranking my colleges by difficulty to get into. I had 2 that I really wanted to go to, but were also the highest tier as far as acceptance rates. Then I picked 2 to 3 mid-level colleges that I had more than a 60% chance of getting into, and I was fine with them as well. Then I chose another 2 “fallback plan” colleges that met a majority of my criteria, my admittance was almost guaranteed, but wasn’t completely in love with.

The top 3 or 4 in your hierarchy should be the ones you focus on the most. These are colleges that you’d be totally okay with getting accepted to and are excited about.  

4. TAKE A COLLEGE TOUR

If you can budget for college tours, absolutely take them. I literally cannot stress this enough. I recommend visiting your top 3 colleges.

Every college sounds great on paper, but until you see it physically, you will never truly get an authentic feel for them.

Dartmouth was in the top 5 of my hierarchy, but it wasn’t my number 1 at first. It wasn’t until I actually visited the campus that it became my dream college. If you can’t visit, take the virtual tour online and do the most thorough research that you can. One of my favorite things to do was look up college vlogs on Youtube for each college on my list to get a closer look inside. (These searches will also help you get more of a feel for campus vibe and setting.)

5. RESEARCH, ADJUST, GET EXCITED

Depending on the dream college you’ve decided on, you may need to start kicking your ass into gear. Research more in-depth acceptance rates of your college.

If there’s a median ACT/SAT score or GPA of accepted students, you want to make sure you can get there or above that level by the time you start applying for colleges.

If the odds truly seem against you for that college, pick the next best thing and focus on that. But, still apply to the top one, you never know!

Now that you’ve found your college, it’s time to get excited and get passionate. I realize that it’s scary to get your hopes up about a college, especially if it has a really low acceptance rate.

However, your chances of getting in increase 100% (in my opinion, at least) when you show full-on passion for the college you’re applying to. Admissions boards can see right through an application and tell whether you’re actually excited about their college or are applying “just because”. 

A little advice: You know that saying “reach for the stars and you’ll end up among the clouds”? That’s the exact mindset you should have here. Shoot freaking high, you never know where you’ll land. Dartmouth was my first choice and also the one on my list that was hardest to get into. I did my best and succeeded. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, don’t miss out on opportunities because of self-doubt or fear of failure. You can do this!


Hey, you! Want more college advice and resources? Check out my most helpful posts here:

What They Don’t Tell You to Bring to College

Top 5 Places to Buy Your Dorm Decor

What to Do the Summer Before Freshman Year

 

 

July 20, 2016
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How to Overcome Pre-College Anxiety

Nervousness and fear before your first year is common and a very normal occurrence. Unfortunately, there are about 3 months between high school graduation and stepping foot on campus in which all of the fears you never even knew existed get to fully sink in and keep you up at night. These months can be like those treacherous moments right before your first day of high school but stretched out over ~80 days. It’s quite annoying and sometimes a daily struggle to overcome these fears. While I still get a little nervous, the following reminders have helped me lessen the severity of pre-college anxiety.

How to Overcome Pre-College Anxiety

Common Sources of Pre-College Anxiety & Their Solutions

Making Friends

A lot of people worry about finding their “fit” in college. It might be the first time ever that your classmates aren’t the same people you went to kindergarten with. Making new friends out of complete strangers may be a skill you haven’t sharpened in some time. Or maybe you’re like me–switched schools quite a bit and didn’t quite master the skill of long-lasting friendships. Whatever the case, it’s nothing to worry about. While it’s true that college is a different environment than high school, great relationships are more easily established here for two reasons.

  1. Everyone is equal- The second you step on campus as freshmen, you’re all in the same boat. Everyone’s new, everyone’s nervous, and everyone wants friends. Once you understand that your classmates are just like you, reaching out to them should come easily. You also have the ability to start over. Don’t let whatever held you back from making the most of your relationships accompany you to college. Nobody knows your past or your fears, so don’t bring them!
  2. There are more opportunities– You might have had a few clubs or activities in which you could get to know people in high school. In college, there are tons of opportunities to meet new people. From classes to clubs to greek life and everything in between, there is no doubt you’ll find your tribe somewhere on campus. Push yourself to try new things. Explore places you might not have thought of before. The greatest experiences and friendships come from trying something new.

Overcome Your Fear: 

This fear usually comes as college draws closer and closer. Reminding yourself of some of your best traits is a great way to build up some confidence! Write down 5 things that you think makes you a good friend and 2 things you’d like to work on in college. Knowing your abilities and having a goal to accomplish gives you a future you can look forward to instead of fear.

Gentle Reminder: You don’t need to rush friendships because you fear being alone. Friends will absolutely come, but you should get used to the idea that you can have fun by yourself too. Check out my post on embracing alone time and how it can actually improve your relationships!

Deciding a Major

I totally get it! People around you have been making decisions for you your whole life and, suddenly, you’re the one who has to take the wheel and choose the direction of your future. It can be a lot of pressure trying to figure out a major, especially if you’re someone who has a lot of interests. The truth is, you don’t have to have it all figured out the minute you get to campus. To throw some statistics out, around 80% of college students change their major at least once. Colleges design their curriculums to handle these kinds of changes.

Overcome Your Fear:

Start thinking more about what your passions and interests are during the summer. Following these will lead you to the right subjects. Research the majors that are offered in your school and get a feel for what you might be interested in. The most important thing is to keep an open mind and try new things. You never know what class or professor will spark a new fire in you, and what direction it might take you!

Making Good Grades

You’ve probably heard the lecture from everyone and their mother that high school classes are nowhere near the level of difficulty that college is. Even AP or IB classes pale in comparison to the “vigor” that will be employed in your Math 1 class. While there is some truth to this, it’s nothing you should fear. College is supposed to be challenging. It’s the next level of your education. You aren’t paying an unspeakable amount of money to take 4 more years of high school! Your college also won’t just toss you to the lions. They understand the difficult transition and provide so many resources to ensure success.

Overcome Your Fear:

Remind yourself that it’s nearly impossible to fail if you just take advantage of the resources on campus. Your professors, teaching assistants, tutors, libraries, and 24 hour cafés (for those all-nighters) all want to see you do well. Don’t be afraid to get help, thats what these places and people are here for. Before you step foot on campus, make it a goal for academics to be a priority. You may need to go beyond what’s right in front of you and change up your studying habits if necessary.

Getting Along With Roommates

It’s certainly difficult adjusting to a life with a roommate. It can be nerve-wracking during the summer not knowing how things will turn out with your roomie. You’ve probably read all of the roommate horror stories and are sure your roommate will kill your goldfish while you’re out or something. While there’s no guarantee you’ll get the perfect roommate, there are a few ways to encourage a functional and good relationship. 

Overcome Your Fear:

The best way to squash this fear is to face it! If you know who your roommate is, contact them before school starts and get to know them. You may find out they’re completely normal and that you guys could even become friends. If contacting isn’t an option, start thinking of ways you can become comfortable with your roommate once you get to campus. Planning does a lot to cure a fear of the unknown.


I hope these reminders provide some relief this summer! You’re not alone in this and you should never have to deal with pre-college anxiety alone. If you have any other worries, comment below and talk to me about them. I’ll be sure to help.

 

July 2, 2016
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Friends Can Be Your Biggest Assets

It’s easy to underestimate the influence that your friends can have on you. We sometimes forget that our friendships can serve as another rung in the ladder towards achieving our dreams. In a generation of entrepreneurs, hustlers, and professional risk-takers, we should start considering the people we keep close to us as assets to our business and life goals. How Friends Can Be Your Biggest Assets

If you take a good look at who you keep in your circle, what is their general makeup? I recommend having some friends who are as ambitious and inspired as you. Having friends that you can be constantly discussing, dreaming, and bouncing off ideas with will carry you much farther towards self-improvement than you know.
For example, I have a group of friends who all bring some level of excellence to the table. We’re big on academia, some of us are great creative thinkers, others are political buffs, and all of us are social justice participants. Together, we have deeply profound discussions about topics like current events and politics, philosophical and psychological questions, and our next big ideas and goals. Despite the occasional debates that turn into arguments, I always leave feeling more inspired, more educated, and a more enlightened person. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the idea to restart my blog without seeing a new creative spark in my friend at the discovery of writing poetry.
Having people around you who perform on the same wavelength as you, who want to reach the same level of success as you and who will encourage you to do the same are powerful.

A relationship like this takes a good amount of intellectual confidence on your part to get the most out of it. Your friends might excel in areas where you have room for improvement.  If you want to benefit from a friendship like How Friends Can Be Your Biggest Assetthat there is no space to be insecure about yourself. Their expertise and ambition in their skill set should inspire you to reach that same level in your own endeavors. And you will motivate them as well! That is how these friendships will push you towards greatness.

Similarly, I wouldn’t rely too much on friends who lack your same spirit and ambition. It’s easy to be dragged down by these types, and it will be a little bit harder to work for your goals if nobody else around you is doing the same. They might be great for emotional support, comic relief, and all of the great things that come with friendships, but it’s important to keep in mind that they are not on the same path as you.

When meeting new friends or evaluating the ones you currently have, always consider who will help you become a person you can fall in love with. It comes down to having a healthy balance of friends who just make you feel better and friends who actually make you better.

-Lots of Love, Lola

 

June 28, 2016
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How to Prepare for Freshman Year

Ahh…it’s the summer after you’ve graduated high school. It’s time to sit back, relax, and never get out of bed again until August, right? WRONG. It’s good to rest and have fun, but it’s also important that you don’t waste your summer. There are plenty of things you could and should be doing to prepare yourself for the year that’s coming up.

Preparing For College The Summer Before Freshman Year

EARN MONEY

First things first, there’s never a reason not to apply for scholarships. Whether you’re paying for college yourself or your parents are, why not get free money to help relieve some of the financial burden? Try applying for a scholarship once a week and see what you can get! Weekly college expenses can add up too so it’s good to have some extra spending money. Take up a part-time summer job to save up a little.

STOCK UP

Do a little research and get some dorm inspiration online then slowly start accumulating your dorm decor. I’ve found it way easier on the bank to just pick up things here and there than to buy everything in bulk. You won’t find everything you need in one store anyway! Don’t wait until the last minute to do this either, stores start their dorm sales as soon as high school graduations are gearing up, don’t miss out on them!
Related Post: Top 5 Places to Buy Your Dorm Decor

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Have you picked a major? Still undecided? Do a little snooping around your college website and dig into the stuff you’re interested in. I’ve picked Cognitive Science as my major and every now and then I go on its homepage and see what research is going on there and which professors have the closest relationships with my major. On there is also an alumni page that shows where graduates have gone on with this major. It helps me have a better idea of what I could be doing after I graduate and who will be teaching me while I’m in school. It’s also great to plan out your courses ahead of time so you have a solid plan when it’s time to schedule them. You can never be too prepared!

IMPROVE YOURSELF

How can you improve yourself this summer so that you go into college feeling more confident and ready to tackle the year? Things like blogging, working out, reading good books, doing yoga, or listening to podcasts are all little things you can do that will better your quality of life and your mindset. Starting your freshman year on the right foot is all about the kind of person you are going in. This is your future, take charge of it.
Related Post: What They Don’t Tell You to Bring to College

GET A HEAD START

If your college has some sort of system like a Facebook group page where you can connect with others, don’t hesitate to do so! These are your future classmates and it’s quite fun to get to know some of these people during the summer. Doing this will allow you to not only get a feel of your class vibe, but you’ll also have some built-in friends who you can hang with on that first week of school.

STAY ON TOP OF THINGS

You’ve probably gotten a myriad of forms to fill out online and papers to mail up to your college. Stay on top of those due dates! In addition, make sure you’ve gotten your last health check up and that your shots are up to date. Don’t be the kid on the Facebook group saying things like “oh..that was due?” A little bit of honesty here: Inability to get these things done out of laziness or inattentiveness is a projection of how you will fare in your college classes. 

You’ve got your work cut out for you. However, none of these things take forever to do. I still encourage you to have as much fun and as much sleep as possible this summer while you still can! You’re in that transition period where you still have one foot in your old life and the other in college. Make memories with your high school friends, have crazy fun experiences, and go on adventures in your town while preparing yourself for these next 4 years and getting pumped for them!

June 25, 2016
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What They Don’t Tell You to Bring to College

What They Don't Tell You to Bring to College

It’s a week after my high school graduation. The house that once reverberated with the sounds of flowing champagne and high spirits has trickled to an eerie quiet. Everything is finally over. There is no more being swept under the ocean of college applications, superfluous tests, and fears of social ineptitude.

I am left alone with my thoughts, just mine. And, what do I find there? A mess. I’m not exactly sure where the influences of the people who once surrounded me end and where I begin.

I think to myself, I can’t go to college like this.

College is a new frontier, a representation of a bright and shiny future. I don’t want to enter this future being the same person I was in the past.

There is one thing that does not appear anywhere on a dorm checklist. You won’t find it between the mountains of forms one has to fill out before even stepping on campus either. However, it is something that is absolutely necessary to bring– a sense of self.

Much of our generation has missed the opportunity to develop a sense of self early on.

High school was about trying to look picture perfect. We hustled to make the right grades, ran to this club meeting or that extracurricular, and joined the right volunteer programs. Most of us had one thing in our vision, getting into our dream college with the perfect resume. In the process, we forgot how to be more than walking bulletin boards of our achievements and honors.

Now, I’m not trying to talk down on this sort of strategy. For many of us, all of the sacrifice and extra work yields miraculous results in the form of an acceptance letter. Additionally, academia is one of the things that actually do make us happy.

Still, a little more diligence is required in piecing together who we are in order to make the most out of the next 4 years in college.

If you’re anywhere near college age, you’ve probably heard the saying “what you put into college is what you get out of it.” This statement applies to more than going to classes and capitalizing on internship opportunities.

The direction of your success and development as a person is dependent on who you put forward those 4 years.

If you want to get the best out of your college experience, you need to go with your best and most authentic self brought forward. By doing this, you’re giving yourself the perfect opportunity to grow and be successful in your own skin. college preparation

Having an idea of the kind of person you are and who you want to be before stepping foot on campus can protect you from being easily persuaded and making ill-advised decisions.

In college, you are free to choose what you are passionate about and what ideologies you subscribe to. What you value is yours to value alone. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who just grew out of being told what to do everyday of their life.

If you don’t develop a strong sense of yourself, your life can end up feeling extremely shaky when strong influences come into play. And there is a lot of that in college.

You’ll make more discoveries about yourself throughout college. But, the most important things you’ll learn will be built on the foundation you have laid for yourself beforehand.
Want to know what kind of discoveries you’re in for? I’ve made a list of bloggers’ posts that share what they learned in their first year of college. Scroll to the bottom to find it!

Once you understand yourself, you’ll know how to take opportunities that fit you best. You’ll have friends who better suit your personality. You’ll capitalize on your own strengths, and be able to acknowledge your weaknesses.

How can you figure out yourself?

Take this summer to really do some soul-searching. No, you don’t have to spend hours meditating (although meditation is a great way to center yourself).

  1. Solitude: If that word made you go “ugh!” inside, boy do I have a post for you! I wrote all about the benefits of choosing to be alone, and how it can actually help you figure out who you are. You can read it here. To summarize, spending some quality time without external influences can cause your true self to emerge and it often results in a more confident and self-aware you.
  2. Make Goals: Part of knowing who you are is establishing where you want to go. Write down substantial goals that will lead you towards self-improvement. For one, once you’ve accomplished the goal, you’ll know the new and improved you. Second, you’ll know your abilities. This results in a stronger understanding of yourself. Make sure you’re writing these goals down too. You are 42% more likely to complete a goal if you write it down.
  3. Document: Sometimes it just takes journaling and allowing your opinions and thoughts to form concretely. Write about what you like and dislike, who your friends are, etc. It’s even more important to look back on what you’ve written in the past to connect the dots. You’ll start to get a better sense of your personality and ideals by doing this.

There isn’t a surefire, step-by-step way to finding yourself. As long as you’re taking the time to be aware of your actions and thoughts and truly process the why behind them, you’ll know yourself more and more.

Freshman Year Experiences

Endless May: “The Most Important Lessons Learned Freshman Year”

Mostly Morgan: “44 Things I learned My Freshman Year of College”

Love Megan June: “50 Things I Learned My Freshman Year of College”

The Classic Brunette “Tips and Advice for College Freshmen”

As Told by Sunny “5 Things You Should Know How to Do Before College”

Society Being: “What I Learned My First Year at Community College

 

What has been your experience going into college? Tell me about it in the comments!

June 16, 2016
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