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Everyone has a dream school; some have several. They love that school, and earnestly work on their college applications to try and elicit a positive response from its admissions officers. But many students cannot answer a simple question: “Why do you want to go to that school?”

You see, many of the answers you will receive from students when they are asked the aforementioned question are superficial: the campus is pretty and the parties are amazing. Much worse is the answer you will most likely receive if the school in question happens to be an Ivy League institution–the school’s name.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A pretty campus is definitely a plus when considering where you want to go to school. And it is always nice to know that you will be, uhm, entertained on the weekends. It is also not up for debate that it must be cool to say that you go to an Ivy League school. However, you are not going to college to frolic in the botanical gardens or to party like it’s 1999. Rest assured that the school name alone won’t do you much good either.

The reason for wanting to attend “ X University” must be based in sound logic and in facts. The key, therefore, in making a sound choice about where to apply and secondly where to attend college, is to do research about each school you are applying to. Here are some tips on what (and where!) to research about the schools you are interested in.

1. Strength of Program

The strength of the program you are applying to should be your first and foremost priority when researching a school you are interested in. An excellent program will offer you classes taught by experts in the field and a fast-track towards internship and research opportunities. Indeed, it is many times the connections you make, rather than what you learned, that will give you the upper-hand in the real world. Part of your research should therefore be devoted to ascertaining the graduate programs and jobs that students from the school receive upon graduating. While past results do not ensure future success, it will give you a good idea of the kinds of opportunities available.

2. Stay away from College Confidential (for the most part)

If you are a college-bound high school student you have probably heard of the forum College Confidential. And if you have not heard of it yet, you surely will when you begin to do research about colleges. This resource provides students with a platform to discuss pertinent issues that affect them and receive feedback about how to solve such problems from their peers. When used by such Good Samaritans, College Confidential is actually an incredibly valuable resource.

Unfortunately, “CC” is more often a thread filled with narcissists and liars. You will encounter myriad individuals who would much rather stroke their own egos and make you feel inferior than actually help you find a solution to your problem. And of course, you are bound to virtually meet some of the most shameless liars out there. These individuals will brag about their perfect SAT scores coupled with their being a National Merit Scholar, Intel Finalist, and internationally recognized humanitarian. You will be inclined to believe the first such individual; if you are incredibly trusting, you might believe the second or third such case. But I hope reading 15 such cases on a single thread will raise serious red flags about the advice given–and the advisors. Make sure whatever you do to take anything written there with a grain of salt.

3. Financial Aid/Scholarship

The most pressing concern for any college student is how to finance his/her university education. After all, what point is there in getting a world-class degree if you will never be able to pay back your debts? Therefore, I urge you to judge the economic feasibility of a school when you are considering the feasibility of admittance.

When researching the cost of the school, make sure you consider the “Cost of Attendance,” not just the “Cost of Tuition”). I have personally heard many stories of students who attended a university they thought they could afford, only to realize that they had not taken into account auxiliary expenses such as lodging, gas, and the dreaded meal plan.

If you take nothing else from this piece, I urge you to realize the need to research each school thoroughly before applying. You don’t want to be stuck at an “A-list” school in a “B-list” program. Likewise, you don’t want to be inundated with college debts that will economically cripple you for the rest of your life.

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