Choosing a College Planning for College

The First Step in College Selection: Self-Analysis

Written by CB Experts

Take one look at the size of The College Handbook, a compilation of all colleges in the United States, and you will realize the magnitude of choices you have available to you in selecting the college that you may want to attend. With over 3000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, you will undoubtedly discover many schools that will be of interest to you and where you will want to spend the next four years preparing for your future.

But, how do you develop a college list that is manageable, and how can you narrow down a list of 3,000 to a more reasonable list of  6-8 schools? The process might seem overwhelming at first, to say the least! Where should you start? How do you begin?

The answer is quite simple. You start with YOURSELF! As a 16 or 17 year old, this will probably be the first time you have taken a close look at who you really are: your strengths and weaknesses as a student, your interests and talents, your personality, and your values and goals. The process isn’t easy; you must really think about yourself objectively and honestly in all of these categories. The end result, though, is very beneficial in two regards–first, in helping you select colleges that “fit” you and also in presenting yourself in the best possible way during the application process.

Okay, let’s begin the self-evaluation. Answer the following questions in each of the sections below thoughtfully and honestly. Be sure to keep a written record of your responses for your use in other aspects of the application process. Determine how you would compare to other applicants to selective colleges.

Academic Considerations

  • What is your grade point average and class rank through six semesters of high school

Insider Tip! If you are applying to selective schools, you should be in the top 10% of your class; the most selective colleges, like the Ivy Leagues, expect a much higher class rank of their applicants.

  • What did you score on your SAT I, SAT II, and/or the ACT?

Insider Tip! As a general rule, most selective schools would like to see scores in the mid-600’s and better on each of the SATs sub tests (math, writing, and critical reading, and subject tests) and/or a score of 29 and above on the ACT. It is important to keep in mind that the average entering freshman at the most selective colleges has scored over 700 on each section of the SAT and over 30 on the ACT.

  • Did you take the most challenging curriculum available to you at your high school?

Insider Tip! If your high school offers Honors and /or AP classes, you should enroll in as many as you can handle and still maintain honor grades. Yes, it IS better to take a more difficult class and get a “B” rather than take an easier course to get an “A.” Of course, it is even better to take the most challenging course and get an “A!”

  • How did you score on the AP test(s) that you did take?

Insider Tip! If you take an AP class, it is very important that you take the AP test. Many colleges will accept a score of 4 or 5 on an AP test for college credit in the course. Even if they don’t award credit, colleges like to see strong test results to document capability to successfully undertake college level course work.

Think overall about your high school experience regarding the classes you enrolled in.

  • Were they challenging enough for you? Or were they too challenging?
  • Did your high school enrich your interest in special academic areas, the arts, or athletics?
  • What would you change about your high school academically?

College Selection Tips:

Your answers to these questions will help guide you to the type of academic environment that best fits you.

Your learning preferences should guide you to the type of school you will learn best at: a university, liberal arts college, or technical college.

  • What is your learning style?
  • Are you a visual, auditory, or hands-on type learner?
  • Do you learn best on your own with very little supervision or do you prefer structure and close supervision?
  • Do you like small classes or large; lecture or small group discussion?

Perhaps your favorite course of study might lead to a possible major field of study in college. At least it would be a good starting point; a student can always change majors in college.

  • What classes did you most enjoy?
  • Were the majority of these classes concentrated in one academic discipline?
  • What do you choose to learn when you can learn on your own?


Personality Type

Your personality determines the size, location, and type of college you will want.  Here are some questions to direct you in that choice.

  • Are you predominantly extroverted or introverted? Are you more comfortable in a small group setting or do you enjoy large groups of people around you?
  • Do you enjoy engaging in class discussions or do you prefer teacher–directed lecture where you can simply take notes and soak in the new learning?
  • Are you a Class-A type personality where you are driven to succeed and stimulated by competition? Or are you more laid back and get stressed and distracted in competitive environments?
  • Are you ready and excited to start college or do you have some reservations about leaving home?
  • Are you a person who enjoys small quite places where you know everybody and everything or do you prefer big cities with lots of people and fast pace?
  • Are you eager to leave your small hometown and experience a change that you are ready for?


Interests and Talents

Your activity involvement influences the kind of college environment you need.  Here are more questions to ask yourself.

  • What social and recreational activities do you engage in now that would like to continue in college?
  • What new activities would you like to pursue in college?
  • Are athletics important to you? As a spectator or as a participant? In what sport(s)? At what level of competition?
  • Are you interested in theater, or musical events or activities?
  • Are you seeking diversity? Are you experienced in dealing with people who come from different backgrounds or culture than you?
  • Do you enjoy travel and learning about different countries and cultures?

Values and Goals

Your college represents you.  Its degree of soical acivitism and how well you respect your peers and others in your campus community are important.  Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you think about your values.

  • How has the environment you have grown up in influenced your thinking?
  • Are you looking for a more diverse community of people or a more homogenous student body in terms of religious, social and/or political beliefs?
  • Are you seeking a college to give you a broad-based education or pre-professional training?
  • Are there any world issues that deeply concern you? If you are distressed about these issues, do you view college as a place where you can find solutions to rectify these problems?

After this self-evaluation you will have started to think about what you would like in a college.  Now it’s time to consider the basic criteria you should use in selecting your colleges.

Check out Step 2!

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.