Vassar’s Thompson Library. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Feeling alone as you swim through the terrifying waters known as the college admission process? Have no fear! We have several seniors blogging about ups, downs, and random in-betweens of their college process for the next 12 months (from June 2015 to June 2016!). Sit back, relax, and get that “OMG I totally get you, bro” feeling. Information for how to contact a blogger will be at the bottom of his/her posts.

It is now mid-July, and I am not-so-proud to announce to all of my rising senior peers that I have not done a grain of important work since summer let out. Sure, I had an internship at the start of the summer. Sure, I’m starting my second internship this week, and sure, I’ve been researching colleges a little bit every day, but what have I done, really? I caught up on around 150 episodes of anime, and watched the entirety of Modern Family in a week. I cried a little bit over my recently released SAT and AP scores (still crying, to be honest), and developed insecurities about the application process beyond belief.

So, to all of my fellow seniors: this may be the busiest summer of your high school career, but don’t be afraid to take it down a notch and relax! You will always have something to worry about in the summer, whether it be the first day of college next year, the deadline to pick a major the year after that, or having to find the perfect internship the year after that. Relax a bit, and let it go. It’s the summer. You can worry about it tomorrow. Go outside, take a walk, eat some ice cream, and enjoy the time you have to yourself before life is consumed in applications.

Now that everyone is aware of what I’ve done in the past month (which is absolutely nothing), it is approaching August, and it is time to get it together and dive back into work. Before the school year starts, I think it is best to have your college list – or at least a solid 70% of your college list set in stone so that you won’t have to worry about doing a bunch of research once applications open. Here are a few of the factors I considered while building my college list; hopefully a few of these will apply to your situation as well!


Being away from the Northeast really makes you appreciate how beautiful it really is there and how much you have access to. Since the beginning of my college career also marks my return to America, I want to go back to somewhere familiar: the good old NYC metropolitan area and surrounding suburbs. Although I have grown to love Shanghai and everything I get to experience here, I miss home. I miss the long winters and the autumn trees and the day trips into New York City and Boston. This is probably an extremely shallow and ridiculous requirement, but location is very important to me.

I have the privilege of not having to worry too much about financial aid or out-of-state finances, so I kept my options open at the beginning of my college search and looked at schools in places ranging from western Pennsylvania to California to the UK. However, in the end, I was always drawn back to the intimate, beautiful campuses of New England. Although this is an important factor, I am also looking at one or two schools outside of this area because they seem like really wonderful institutions. I would be an idiot to not consider them solely due to geographical location.

Academic/Extracurricular Opportunities

Opportunities, opportunities, opportunities! That is what college is all about: the availability of resources, professors, fellow students, alumni connections, jobs, internships, and just knowledge. As I made ridiculously clear in my last post, I really love learning, as nerdy as that is, and really want to go to a place where I can do so. When creating my list, I looked at the Freshmen seminars and Senior thesis projects each school offered, and browsed through its offered majors/minors and course catalogue. Although I am still extremely undecided on what I want to study, I’m keeping my options open, so most of the schools I’m looking at at all have relatively strong media/journalism, economics, or social sciences departments.

I would also advise making a spreadsheet to organize your research! It will help you consolidate the information and will allow you to compare schools easily. Add categories that are important to you in considering different institutions. Below are the categories I used on my spreadsheet.

Image from me.

Image from me.

I couldn't get it to fit in one screenshot, so I split it into two. Image from me.

I couldn’t get it to fit in one screenshot, so I split it into two. Image from me.

General Atmosphere

This may also sound snobbish, and I may actually be completely wrong, but when you’re looking at liberal arts schools that are extremely similar in regards to the factors mentioned above, the only other thing you can do is find your “fit.” What’s the difference between Williams and Amherst and Wesleyan and Swarthmore really? Sure, some are a bit stronger in the sciences or the humanities, and some have specific seminars and classes available, but going to any one of those schools will pretty much guarantee a fantastic, well rounded education. When I visited those schools, everything was starting to blend together – you have no idea how many times I heard the words “open curriculum,” “accessible professors,” “high academic rigor,” and “need-blind admissions” in those two weeks.

To differentiate, I really tried to look at the strongest departments in, and the general atmosphere and residential life of the college. Which ones are more community centered? Which ones are more independent and competitive? Which schools have a stronger social scene, and which have highly stressed out students? Which schools have a stronger sciences department, and at which ones are the classics and humanities more popular? Visiting the campuses really helped me determine this factor. Because of my internships this summer, I am unable to return to the States this year at all, and thus unable to visit schools or do overnights, but I looked at a couple of campuses summer of Sophomore year. This helped me grasp the general atmosphere, and opened my eyes to the dizzying array of amazing institutions in New England. It also helped me establish my unreasonable bias against grey bricked buildings (Does anybody else feel this way? I am so much more comfortable on a red-brick campus than on a grey-brick one. Is that weird? Probably). So, my advice to you is: if you have the resources and the time, go visit! After all – that is where you’re going to be spending the next four years of your life. Might want to make sure it’s a place you like.

Now, this isn’t really the best list of requirements, but it’s definitely mine.

And here, finally, I present my 5th (maybe 6th?) draft of a college list which probably won’t be finalized until draft 15: Vassar, Wesleyan, Northwestern, Bates, Colgate, Northeastern, and Villanova. I am just looking for failure on a couple of these (cough Northwestern and Wesleyan cough), but it can’t hurt to try, right? I also didn’t put a safety school on this list, since I haven’t decided on one yet. I don’t have an no-brainer home state school to apply to since A, I won’t be close to home either way, and B, I won’t receive in-state aid because I don’t live in-state.

I’m still super nervous about everything, and on top of that, my counselor is moving this year, so I will have a new one in September (international school, anyone?). Hopefully, my counselor rec won’t come out terribly, and I will have someone with answers this semester and who will give me a piece of reality. Another quick piece of advice: go visit your counselor as much as possible! They’re the experienced ones in this situation, and only want to help you.

I am going to go relax and watch TV until my eyes hurt now, and maybe freak out a little bit more about college, so until next time, readers.

Want to get in touch with Katherine? Email, or fill out our contact form, and she’ll write you back ASAP!

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