Good research means an investment of time and energy. The more thorough research you do, the better equipped you will be to make good decisions for yourself.
Ask questions. Choosing where to apply cannot be reduced to a series of either/or questions, but the usual list of considerations is still a good place to begin: Big or small? Public or private? East, West, Midwest, South, outside the US? Liberal Arts or pre-professional? Traditional or non-traditional? Hot or cold? Ask as many questions as you can; any factor important to you is worth plugging into the equation. Relating those questions to your self-exploration is key.
Do not let only one or two factors govern your choices. What happens if you choose a college for a particular program and find yourself, a year or two later, interested in something completely different? Or what if you go somewhere to play football and break your leg playing frisbee the first week of school? You should be especially careful about letting any one individual, whether it's an alumnus, an admissions officer, a friend, a teacher, or even a parent, influence your choice. Liking (or disliking) someone who went to a college or who works at a college does not guarantee your liking (or disliking) the college. Another danger is to let a graduate school or program influence your choice. Getting into Yale College has absolutely nothing to do with getting into Yale Law School. In fact, at some schools it can make admission to their own graduate schools MORE challenging!
Look beyond statistics. For example, a college may boast that 80% of its graduates get into medical school, but that doesn't mean that you'll have an 80% chance of getting in if you go to that college. If you don't do the job, you'll end up in the 20%, and, if you do produce, your chances are probably just as good at a college where only 60% are admitted to medical school. It's your performance that counts in the end.
Do not fall prey to the common fallacies about college admissions. One myth is that the more selective a school is, the better the education. The number of applications per spot in the class has very little correlation with the quality of undergraduate education available at the school. Some of the most highly regarded colleges for their quality of teaching and focus on undergraduates have a higher admit rate because of the self-selective nature of their applicant pool as a result of location, size, or curricular philosophy.
Resources for a Successful College Search
Although applying to college is essentially a one-person operation, utilizing the resources available to you in the AOC community and elsewhere can make it easier and less solitary.
Counselors' Office: Our counselors have been doing this a long time and have a lot of knowledge both about the process and about specific schools. Spend time getting to know the people in the Counselors’ Office and use us as resources for questions you have.
Recent AOC Alumni: Recent AOC graduates, particularly those whom you already know, are a
wonderful source of the kind of information hard to find in a catalogue. Your response to a college may be very different, but knowing the source of the information will help you assess its validity for you. We are happy to provide the names of students who are currently attending particular colleges. Many of the students have directly requested that we do so, because they are eager to share their experiences and new-found wisdom with someone from back home.
The Internet and College Web Sites: Internet research can yield lots of useful information in your college search. Most colleges have an extensive web site, many with a virtual tour and online course catalog. Good research will include an extensive examination of a college’s online materials.