What I wish I knew when choosing colleges

Jack Kubineck ’23, Cornell University

When I was in high school, I spent countless hours poring over college websites and online forums trying to figure out which colleges would suit me best. After less than a week of college, I realized that most of the research I had done wasn’t helpful, and there was a lot that I didn’t know while going through the college process. Here are a few of the things I wish I had known before applying to college.

Most colleges offer the same opportunities

While being bombarded by college emails during my junior year of high school, I began to notice that every college said the same things about themselves. “Our professors love engaging with students! There are like 57 sports teams here! We have a squirrel watching club! Wow! Quirky!” The truth is, most colleges offer many of the same opportunities. The majority of colleges have the same types of clubs, offer the same types of classes, and create similar career options. So, in a lot of ways, you can’t really go wrong when choosing a college, because all colleges will offer similar opportunities.

The key to finding the right college for you, though, is learning to look past the fluff that colleges put in their admissions brochures and finding what makes a college unique. Does a college offer a less common major that you’re interested in? Are there study abroad options that interest you? Does the college have a really good basketball team? Find out what matters most to you in your college search.

Your environment matters

Colleges all offer similar opportunities, but they don’t all have similar campus atmospheres. It’s easy to only focus on how prestigious a college is or how good its academics are, but your mental health is more important than either of those things, so you should pick a college where you will enjoy yourself and be able to thrive. Love the outdoors? Then look for schools with nature nearby. Vegetarian? Then look for schools with good vegetarian dining options. Hate the cold? Then try to go somewhere warm for college.

Besides the school’s physical environment, though, colleges also have different social atmospheres. Some schools have big fraternity/sorority party scenes, while other colleges have social scenes consisting more of hanging out in smaller groups or at school-sponsored events. At some colleges, many of the students leave to go home on weekends. And, more broadly, your college experience will play a part in shaping the person you become. The juniors and seniors at different colleges will be you in a few years, so ask yourself if you want to be more like the students at any particular college.

Visiting colleges is a great way to answer many of these questions. If you aren’t able to visit the colleges you’re interested in, CollegeFindMe provides virtual campus tours from students at colleges across the country.

Sometimes you just have a feeling

Looking for colleges is stressful, and it’s okay to not have all the answers to which college suits you best. At the end of the day, I ended up picking the college that felt right to me. Do your research and think hard about what you want to get out of your college experience, but know that at the end of the day, you won’t know everything about your college until you become a student there. Trust your gut, and you can’t go wrong.

Next Steps after Rejection

Sometimes, in the college application process, you aren’t going to get the answer you want. It can feel awful, especially after all the work you put into your essay, supplemental writing, and classes in general. But you can and will move forward. You just need to take the time to breathe, think, and take the next step in the process.

Take care of yourself

Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re probably dealing with some pretty negative emotions after getting rejected. That is totally, 100%, absolutely normal and valid. Let yourself process those emotions, however works best for you. Watch a movie. Eat ice cream. Go for a run. Scream into a pillow. Pause and let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling. Then, once you feel better, you can move on.

Take stock

Where else did you apply? Are there still schools accepting applications? Are there colleges you applied for that want to interview you? Lay out all of your options, because you still have plenty. 

Reflect

What did you like best about the school you applied to ED or EA? Was it the environment, the academic programs, or the location? You can use this information to decide which of the other colleges on your list might still be a great fit for you. Many colleges offer similar programs and opportunities, so while you might have loved certain qualities in the one school you didn’t get into, don’t think you can’t find a comparable experience somewhere else. 

Be positive

The one thing you can control in this process is your outlook. If you interview with other schools but make it very clear that they weren’t your first choice, they might not take that very well. There is still so much to look forward to no matter what school you end up at. Look for the bright side and focus on that.

Be yourself

Any school you get into is lucky to have you. You are a uniquely individual person and student that has a lot to offer. Figure out how your interests and passions can be displayed at the schools you get into, and own up to it. Will you be the best player on their team? The star of the show? An incredible artist or Dean’s List student? At the end of the day, college is what you make of it. Even if you aren’t at your dream school, you can still find outlets to be yourself and do something incredible at any college or university.

Rejection is hard, and this likely isn’t the last time you’ll have to deal with it in your life. But you can learn and grow from it, just like everything else. Don’t rush into the next opportunity without letting yourself feel sad or mad or disenchanted, but know that there are so many amazing chances just beyond this. 

Building a New World: Urban Planning

Amaya White ‘22, Montclair State University

I had the opportunity to interview one of my friends from high school about his college experience at Rutgers.  Jared Aisenberg is an Urban Planning and Design major, which he defines as ”the study of urban realms, and the fundamentals of planning and revitalization of them”. He’s very knowledgeable on transportation and the geography of New York City. Anytime I have questions about navigating the Big Apple, he’s there to guide me. 

If you’re thinking about an Urban Planning major, you’ll be interested to read about Jared’s experience.

Q: How did you decide on Urban Planning

A: I’ve always had an affinity for geographic landscapes and maps, and I found a fascination in ones that had public transportation on them. I studied them on my own and created ‘what if’s’ in my head as if I was actually planning extensions and overhauls. When I took a freshman seminar related to the topic, I learned to love the movements of people and how they interact with transit. As someone with the social skills and mind that I have it was the perfect fit.

Q: What was your favorite class – and why?

A: My favorite class so far is Designing Healthy Cities. The class gave me an independent approach to how each student would make a city more sustainable for the future and we all presented final projects on our plans in the end.

Q: Did you have a favorite project?

A: The project, as mentioned previously, was the complete overhaul and revitalization of the New York City subway system. It was a 14-minute video that tackled health problems, planning & operations, and policy to make the system healthier for the people.

Q: How does Urban Planning translate into your career goals?

A: I hope to revitalize mass transit systems. My career goal would be to be known as the man that made mass transit a fun, reliable source again. To get there, I think my major will help me find a career very easily, since Rutgers is at the heart of two major cities that rely on urban planners. Internship opportunities start with the university’s own mass transit system. It can lead to working in transportation corporations, public health and policy, government, and architectural firms. Some people continue into law.

Q: Any tips for students considering an Urban Planning major?

A:  An Urban Planning major is pretty unique. You might also want to try a Planning & Public Policy major, which takes a more law and governmental approach to the making of policy for planning purposes. But don’t worry that you feel like none of the classes you’ve taken correlate. Take the intro courses, and see what they’re all about!

Self Care in College

Amaya White ‘22, Montclair State University

After completing a busy week of classes, finishing homework, attending rehearsals, and having a social life, it’s important to find time to unwind and focus on yourself. At times, college can be stressful when dealing with so many tasks at once but it’s good to plan a moment at least one day a week or once a day for yourself. Personally I use my Monday mornings as my time to decompose and organize the rest of my week. Here are some of my favorite things to do to decompose!

Listen to a podcast

Lately, I’ve found it really nice to tune into podcast while cleaning my room or getting ready for the day. It’s as if someone’s having a dialogue with me in my room about something I’m interested in learning about or discussing. For instance, I’ve been listening to The Daily by the New York Times lately. They’ve been addressing everything having to do with the impeachment hearings and informing people about exactly what this investigation is supposed to solve. I’m really interested in listening to podcasts that are informative about my passions. Some of my favorite podcasts include The Ensemblist, The BE Way, and A Balancing Act which are all centered around being in the performing arts. 

Journal

I’m very interested in being crafty and organizing things so journaling has always been a fun task for me. I like getting artsy by drawing doodles and pasting pictures into my notebook. I’ll write about what inspires me, my growth in my classes, and my goals. I think it’s important to keep yourself accountable for all your dreams and aspirations and writing them all down in one place is a simple way of doing that. 

Treat yourself

Sometimes the dining hall just doesn’t cut it in college and you yearn to have something new for your taste buds. I recommend doing uber eats  or grubhub and ordering food that fuels your soul. My roommate purchases a smoothie bowl once a week because she loves fruit and there aren’t always many fruit options on campus. I enjoy spending a few dollars to get food that I don’t always have access to on campus because it’s something to look forward to when you’ve finished all of your work. 

Meditate

I learned in a summer intensive that if you feel very low in energy it’s beneficial to do a guided meditation for ten minutes rather than nap. Napping can confuse your body and cause you to get less sleep when one goes to sleep at night. However, meditation almost always rejuvenates the body. So if you have a hectic schedule that only allows for a short amount of time for self care, I highly recommend doing a five to ten minute guided meditation

Cook

I’m fortunate enough to have a stove and an oven in the common area in my school and I love taking advantage of that. I love baking and cooking food! One of my favorite things to do with my friends is bake cookies and brownies. They’re so tasty!

Overall, find things that bring you joy and designate a specific time to do that at least once a week. It’s important that you remain a good student but it’s more important that you take time for yourself so that you don’t overwork yourself. Remember, you matter!

Handling Rejection

Jaadyyah Shearrion ’20, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

What’s up, I’m back again. I know some of you have already gotten your acceptance letters from ED schools, I also know that some of you haven’t gotten the response you wanted from those ED schools. I applied to Wellesley College, a very competitive all women’s liberal arts school, as an early decision student. Sadly, I wasn’t accepted and I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave my house that entire weekend. I thought my dreams of going to college were over. I’m telling you now, it’s okay to initially be upset.

To get myself out of that funk I gave myself a pep talk about how that college wasn’t ready for me yet, they need time to get used to the idea of me. After my super dope pep talk, I started to distance myself from college. I unfollowed all their social media accounts and threw away all the evidence that I was interested in the college. Once those steps have concluded, I would suggest talking to someone. I definitely needed a shoulder to cry on, maybe you won’t need someone to bawl your eyes out like me, but it’s very relieving to talk to someone about this. 

I know it’s definitely hard not to take the decision personally. You might think that whoever looked at your application obviously didn’t look hard enough. And maybe they didn’t. But it’s not the end of the world, trust me! 

Hopefully, you’ve made a strong list of potential colleges that you’ve also applied to. If not, some colleges do have a super late application date, like December 30th, while some even go into January. It never hurts to have some kind of a back-up plan, and then a back-up plan for that back-up plan. For example,

  • Get excited about your other schools. Maybe they see the real you and will be a better fit anyway.
  • Reapply next year. It may be just as hard to get in then, but it’s worth a try. And it gives you a chance to amp up your profile and application.
  • Remember that you can transfer later. If you still want to attend your dream school, you have the option of trying to transfer in, down the road.

Though rejection does hurt, take it in stride. I definitely took my rejection hard, but I took my time to process it, and now I feel like I’m ready to move on from the college that didn’t accept my love. 

No matter what you choose to do, take care to remind yourself that getting rejected doesn’t mean you’re a bad student or that your application was horrendous. It just means that the school could only admit so many people, and you happened to not be one of them.

Even though the college admissions process can feel like an uphill battle, just know that you’re definitely not alone. As we say at my alma mater, “Fight on!”

Experimenting with Chemical Engineering

Ashley Tong ‘22, Texas A&M University

My major is Chemical Engineering (or ChemE). ChemE combines chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, and economics to design and make everything from medicines, fuel, car products, skincare products, makeup, and agricultural supplements. 

Choosing ChemE

I chose my major because I really enjoyed general chemistry and was really good at it. I took AP Chemistry in high school and I realized my love for the subject. But I knew I wanted to be in engineering, so I thought ChemE would be the best fit for me.

Friends in my major

I am friends with people in the same major, and what they like the most about ChemE is that our program is so small that we all know and recognize one another. We can help each other out, which is great

Career paths

There are so many career paths with chemical engineering. You can go to medical school, venture into the business side and do something like supply chain, or you can do process engineering, which is like industrial product design. 

I hope to be able to start my own company one day where I create my own makeup. Until then, I want to work with an engineering firm, preferably not in the oil and gas industry.

Tips for future majors

Do your research and keep an open mind. Don’t just go into a major for the money – pick something you would think you would actually like, even if it means taking a more unconventional path.

Setting Goals for the Spring Semester

Whether this is your second semester of high school or your last, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the next five months of classes. Even if you feel like you’ve finally hit your stride after midterm exams and winter break, you can still push yourself and find new ways of expressing yourself and developing your skills. Here’s how to get started:

Underclassmen

Explore
Now that you’ve settled into the rhythm of high school, it’s time to start branching out. Try new clubs, volunteer opportunities, or jobs. Figure out how you want to channel your passions, both in and out of school.

Get ready for summer
How do you want to spend your time once classes are out? If you want to find a job, internship, or long-term volunteering position, start looking sooner rather than later. A good goal is to have your summer plans set by Spring Break.

Build connections
When it comes to the college search, having a mentor to guide you can keep you on track. But you can’t wait until fall of senior year to look for guidance. Reach out to teachers, counselors, or administrators who you feel close to. The better they know you, the more they can help you as you go through the college search and application process.

Juniors

Make a travel plan
Spring break of junior year is a great time to start college visits. But instead of diving in headfirst, make a list of schools you’re interested in, and do some research. Some colleges close during spring break and don’t allow visitors, while others have special spring break programming. Figure out ahead of time where you can visit when, and start connecting the dots.

Lock in your summer plans
While it feels great to relax during the summer, colleges appreciate students who push themselves even when school isn’t in session. Even if you don’t commit too many hours, find a job, internship, or volunteering opportunity that can keep you busy for a few days a week. Volunteer at a food bank. Tutor your neighbors. Work as a lifeguard. Find little  ways to show off your drive without giving up your entire break.

Take stock
Senior year can be a lot of stress. Do you like your extracurricular activities? Are you doing too many things at once? Keep in mind that, on top of classes, clubs, and sports, you’ll need additional time during senior year to fill out applications and find scholarships. Don’t over-commit and burn yourself out.

Seniors

You did it! Applications are in and you just have to wait for decisions to come out. But there are still a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t slack off
Colleges typically ask for a final semester transcript to make sure you didn’t just coast through the end of high school. Keep putting in the effort, especially if you’re taking AP classes. A good score on your AP or IB tests can help you skip core courses in college and save money.

Apply for scholarships
Speaking of money, now is the perfect time to look for scholarships. CollegeFindMe is a great place to start (especially with our next $1000 giveaway coming up in March), but many outside organizations have scholarship deadlines throughout the spring.

Enjoy yourself
Regardless of the stress, high school is a great time when you get to see your friends every day and do the things you love. College will be very different, and that’s not a bad thing, but be sure to appreciate the unique opportunities you have in high school.

Financial Aid Twitter Chat

On December 11, we hosted a Twitter chat to discuss all the ins and outs of financial aid with non-profit organizations, counselors, and colleges. Our contributors shared some great tips to help you understand how to get ahead when applying for grants, scholarships, and loans. Check out our questions and some of the best answers below:

Question 1:

When it comes to college financing, many students and their families are unsure where to begin. What are the initial steps in creating a financial plan?

Question 2:

With so many different types of financial aid available (grants, scholarships, work study, federal and private loans), what do borrowers need to know about these options and how are they different?

Question 3:

As they begin learning about financial planning, students need access to reliable resources. Where can they best find straightforward, comprehensive information about financial aid?

Question 4:

How do you suggest students figure out which financial aid option (or combination of options) will work best for them?

Question 5:

Financial aid planning goes hand in hand with the college admissions process. As students apply to colleges, what is the timeline to learn and apply for each type of aid?

Question 6:

What factors should students and their families consider as they compare each college’s school aid offer?

Question 7:

After securing financial aid, the work is not over. What advice would you give students to stay on top of their plans and payments throughout college?

Dealing with Application Stress

Jaadyyah Shearrion ’20, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

Hi again, I’m pretty sure we are all over school at this point. We’re all stressed out and just counting down the days until winter break. Luckily, I’ve got a few ways that can help you ditch stress and try to ride out the rest of the week. 

Watch a movie

To avoid stress about school and college apps, I love watching feel-good movies. My current faves are:

  • Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
  • The Princess and The Frog
  • The original Marry Popins

Listen to music

I’m a bit of a music connoisseur so when I’m stressed out, I like to listen to some dope tunes. I made a little playlist to help get your mind and instead put some pep in your step, you can find it here.

Go for a walk

Another way that I relieve my stress is by taking walks. I know you may think that’s crazy based on how cold it is, but sometimes the cold helps. Breathing in that cold crisp icy air for me is a bit cathartic. It frees my mind of all negative thoughts and brings me a sense of clarity. Just be sure to bundle up so you don’t get sick!

Hang with friends

Your friends are probably just as stressed as you are. If you make some sort of group activities –  whether it’s having a snowball fight or just chilling in your jammies – having fun with those you care about will definitely help lower your stress levels. One time before midterms, my friends and I watched this Studio Ghibli film called Ponyo, and got our minds completely off school. It was bliss, even if it was for a short time. 

I hope that you will be able to take some of these suggestions and utilize them. They work for any situation. Even if you are waiting to hear back from colleges, have a major test, or just have a ton of school work, taking the time for your mental health comes before anything else. De-stress before vacation and then continue forward in that relaxed state. Have a wonderful winter break!

The Architecture of Tech: Computer Engineering

I go to Cal Poly Pomona in Pomona, California, and my major is computer engineering. Computer engineering consists of creating hardware solutions and perform programming to enhance them. In computer engineering, electronic engineering and computer science combine to teach the design of various technological devices. During my childhood I was really curious about a computer’s architecture. My passion for it really influenced my decision to choose the major of computer engineering.

Favorite class

My favorite class that I’ve taken within my major is C# programming. I really enjoyed this class because it incorporates the foundations of programming, but is still fun since you can incorporate your own creativity in the programs you create.

Friends in my major

I do have quite a few friends that are in the same major as me. A lot of my friends enjoy the creation of hardware, which is the bulk part of my major. Some people also study newer concepts like artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

My goals

With my major, I hope to create a program that will be a part of a big tech project one day, and make a valuable impact on the consumers. My main career goal is to get involved with artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Career paths

Some possible career paths for anyone taking computer engineering can be:

  • artificial intelligence and virtual reality
  • computer hardware (building computers)
  • software engineering (writing code to develop software programs)
  • machine intelligence

Common misconceptions

A lot of people think that engineering majors focus heavily on just the basics of engineering. However, there’s actually a lot of room for creativity and innovation.

Tips for future majors

Make sure to do your own projects to find your interest in engineering. You might get a little bored because there’s a lot of theoretical knowledge and learning. Just know that there are many advances constantly going on within the field, probably some that you haven’t even heard of yet. Everyone has their own niche and passion in engineering, you just have to search for it.

Similar majors

Some related majors to computer engineering are electrical engineering which is the study of devices that use electricity, software engineering which applies core engineering principles to software development, and computer science which is the study of computers and their applications.