[Editor’s Note: This being the summer before senior year for the New Canaan High School class of 2015, we asked our intern Alex Hutchins, a rising senior himself at NCHS, to talk to classmates on how the often consuming process of researching colleges is going for them this summer. We have some terrific and frank responses here, so a heartfelt thank-you to Alex and to each of the rising seniors who participated. -Mike]
Margot Tucker, ’15
I did most of my college visiting during February break this past school year, so I spent this summer going back to the colleges that I really liked and interviewing there. I’ve also written a couple of essays, but haven’t gotten around to doing all the supplements just yet.
My mom has made the college process so easy. She has helped me schedule interviews, brain storm topics for my essay, and helped me organize everything I need to do for the Common App. So overall, the experience has been pleasant and not as stressful as some make it out to be.
I would definitely recommend to rising juniors who will go through this process next year to write your personal essay over the summer. I understand that it does not compare to lying out in the sun, but it will alleviate a lot of stress when you finally finish it and have it out of the way before school starts.
I’m looking for a smaller school, one where I can really get to know my professors and have the option of going to see them if I have trouble with classroom material or homework. I also know that I definitely do not want to go too far north—I’ve never loved the snow anyway.
Personally, I think the whole college process is a little ridiculous in New Canaan. Everyone is so competitive and nosy when it comes to finding out where other people are looking at colleges. I think that as long as a student ends up at a college where they’re going to be happy, regardless of “how good a school is,” then that’s the best thing.
Over the summer, I went back to Bucknell to get a second look at the school and I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Judge, one of the heads of the animal behavior department. He showed my mother and me around his lab, which included seeing the four colonies of primates. It was truly a remarkable experience and it opened my eyes up to what I could do as a college student if I chose to go to that school.
Carsten Berger, ’15
I would describe my experience with the college process exciting, both good and bad, because we get to control our future for the next four years, which some people might call the best four years of our life. And at least for me I get to choose where I want to go to college which is a great responsibility but also a great freedom.
It can also be very nerve-racking because obviously you’re worried if you’re going to get into a college and whatnot. So far, I think I’ve looked at 15 schools so it’s been a very involved process.
I would tell rising juniors to start early. Like, I started looking at college over April break but certainly the way it is now, if you’re going to look at a dozen or so colleges it’s really tough to do in the fall of your senior year. So I would get started early and really plan it out so it’s more manageable going into your senior year.
In the beginning I didn’t know what I wanted from a college but then when I went on college visits I knew I wanted to have a small college of around 2,000, kind of not in the city but also not in the middle of nowhere. So my search sort of narrowed based off that criteria but basically you got to see what you’re comfortable with when you go and visits and see students there.
New Canaan’s definitely very competitive in regard to college. I guess the norm would be to look at a dozen colleges and it becomes very competitive because a lot of my friends are looking at some of the same colleges I am. So I think it’s very different from my parents’ experience in that they would only look at maybe four or five colleges and just apply to those. Now it’s very different, there’s a lot more work because so many more people are applying.
When I looked at Dartmouth it was on a Saturday during finals week so there were students there and it was just a really vibrant atmosphere and I could tell I could really enjoy going there because the students looked to be having fun and it looked like it might be the right place for me. But obviously still we have to see if I’ll be able to get in. In addition to the academics I really liked the town of Hanover because it’s a pretty quiet town, probably even quieter than New Canaan but a very good college town for being out in the middle of nowhere.
Bridget Callahan, ’15
I have gone on a few college tours, but right now I’m mostly trying to decide on which schools I want to actually apply to. I made my account for the common application and accounts at a few other schools that I am interested in but not necessarily visiting so I can still get information from them. My experience has been pretty good so far because most of my visits have gone well and I have found schools that are a good fit for me. I would advise juniors especially who are going on tours to ask the tour guides any and all questions that they can think of. It makes the tour much more interesting and you learn a lot more about things that you might not have thought of otherwise.
Also, try not to let the tour guide completely sway your decision on the school one way or another. It’s very easy to not like a school at all because your tour guide wasn’t good, and it was a rainy day or something. Keep an open mind and try to look at the school, not the person showing it to you. Also, if you are seriously interested in a school, and if you know someone there, try to spend a weekend with them so you can see what it’s actually like being at the school. It definitely helps to see if you can actually picture yourself living there for the year.
I’m looking for a school with a bit warmer weather, so I looked almost completely in the South. I also love football and attending sporting events, so most of the schools I looked at have decent sports. And of course I am looking for schools with good reputations and good academics, since that is why I am going to college. It definitely helped knowing things like that, as well as the size I wanted and fields I’m interested in studying, because it allowed me to narrow down my search so I’m not looking at every school in the U.S.
It is definitely stressful living in New Canaan going through this process, since there are such high expectations, and almost everyone goes to college. Also, since every year so many people in New Canaan attend such prestigious schools, there is a lot of pressure I think on everyone to go to a school with a well-known name.
This past week I was on a tour of the University of Maryland and one of my tour guides was a cheerleader. And since I am a cheerleader for the high school, but not sure yet whether I want to do it in college or not, it was really helpful to get advice from her on what skills I would need, what it’s like transitioning between high school and college cheerleading and things like that. We ended up talking most of the time, and she really helped me see myself at the school.
Erik Burns, ’15
This summer I’ve been doing a lot of SAT work to try to improve my scores a little bit in October. I’ve been looking at a couple colleges but I did most of that before the summer started. In addition to working all summer I’ve also been doing work on the common app this past week by looking at the essays and starting to outline my essay and writing a couple paragraphs.
Overall my experience has been good. Other than putting in a lot of hours for SAT, I think looking at colleges is fun because you try to see where you fit in best. Since I really love music and the outdoors I try to look for schools in the outdoors that also have access to cities and music, and pretty much have a good culture. I also try and see if they have good sports team, even though that’s pretty low on the totem pole.
Having grown up in New Canaan I really enjoy that pride in our sports teams that we have so I want to find that too. Even though my friends are probably more academically driven than I am, I feel like living in New Canaan, I’m more inclined to pick a more prestigious school, even if the less prestigious school is a better fit. I went to Penn State where my cousin goes, took a tour there and had a generally good experience even though it’s a bigger school which I don’t think I was really expecting to look into because I want something bigger than New Canaan High School but not too big. The same was for Lafayette which felt a bit smaller.
Basically, what I try look at when I visit schools is if the people are nice and generally happy. And if they’re kind of in the dumps about the place it’s not really a great choice.
I would definitely say to rising juniors to start working on SAT stuff early, and really make your list of schools as soon as possible and tell your parents where you want to visit. Sometimes it might be hard to get motivated, especially with the SAT work but the more work you put in earlier the more it will pay off later down the road. So when you get to this point where I am you won’t have to be doing the SAT work that I’m doing.