College resources are kind of like cholesterol: there’s the good stuff that you really need to be healthy, and then there is the bad stuff that clogs your arteries and makes it impossible for your body to run as it should. There is so much information available to a college applicant these days via people, books, and the internet that it can make your head spin. So, here are a few tips on getting the right dose of college info so that you are informed without driving yourself crazy:
Get it from a Reputable Source
Make sure that whatever information you get is coming from a reputable source that you trust. Books like Fiske’s Guide to Colleges and An Insider Guide to Colleges are great college encyclopedias that I personally love. However, you really do not need to clear out your entire Barnes and Noble college section. I suggest getting one very straightforward one like Fiske and something lighter such as Insider’s.
Information straight from the school is really great because it gives you the facts and allows a school to really show you all it has to offer. If you get to visit a school, grab every pamphlet you can to peruse at your leisure, and if you can’t visit, don’t hesitate to contact the admissions office and request them to send you information. Keep in mind however that because it is coming from the school itself, it may only show you the best and leave out equally important aspects, because they are not its top selling points. For example, a school may have a great math department and awesome food, but the English department needs work and the dorms are closets from the 1940s.
A good way to balance this out can be fairly objective resources such as The Prospect that are non-profit and not linked to any school. Websites that do not talk about specific schools but rather other aspects of the college process are a great way to find a balance between hard information and fun general tips. Even so, we are not gods and certainly do not know everything, so take what even we say with a grain of salt.
While good information significantly shrinks the pool of college information, there is still enough in there to keep you occupied to no end. This is when you have to use your own good judgment and decide that you should put the college books and websites away by one before you psych yourself out and can’t sleep.
Beware of Gossip!
My biggest concern when it comes to college resources is the gossip that floats around people and on the internet. The way that schools are likely to give you only the most enticing information, gossip tends to lend itself to show everything in its worst light. Websites that initially seem like a way to get the real information end up emphasizing things impossible to quantify like how everyone at that school is ugly or nerdy or wild. I do not care what this or that site says, not everyone who goes to a single sex school is gay. The best way to get the inside scoop on a school is to visit it yourself and/or do an overnight.
Just as harmful as online gossip is what you can hear from other people. Sometimes it can be good; when a friend of mine visited a school I could not make it to, I all but interrogated her about every single detail of the info session. Still, what I really struggled with was when I would visit a school knowing that my friend’s older brother that she could not stand because he was a total jerk went there and seemed to really fit in. As with other resources, try to let what friends have to say inform you, but not necessarily influence you.
Lack of influence is crucial to a guilty pleasure of mine: college rankings. They are my teen magazine; I read every one I can get my hands on. Most Sexually Liberal Schools, Most Expensive, Most Geeky, and Most Beautiful are just a few. While I read all of them carefully, I never let them really affect how I think of a school because it really is just gossip. If you let gossip be entertainment rather than information, it can be part of what really makes the college process exciting and vibrant.
The college process, and college information, requires balance. You need to balance between too much and too little information, between the most official information and the most first hand information, between the information and the gossip. I found that by reading Insider’s, which felt like a friend talking to me rather than bullet pointed facts from the school, helped me stay just a bit saner, especially when interspersed with lists of the best schools to be at in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Everyone has their own recommended amount of college information that helps them on their way to the right school for them, so find yours and run with it!