Wednesday, March 17, 2010

College application process -- Introduction

Being a first generation immigrant to America, I definitely did not really understand the college application process. High school advisers aren't much help either.  Let's be honest, if they really did well in college, they would likely be in positions with significantly higher pay.  Looking back, in some ways it was like asking a Bank Teller what to do to become an Investment Banker.

Location doesn't really matter, but keep in mind you are spending 4-years of your life there (unless you're going to get an online education from home).  Find somewhere you will enjoy spending time at.  If you hate the city, don't go to school in Manhattan, and if you hate cold winters and snow, don't go to school in Maine.

As you go to school you will meet individuals, classmates, and leaders in the community that will also facilitate getting a job local to where you went to school.  Most colleges unless for the most prestigious Universities will also likely attract more local students than national/ international. So as important as the location, also make sure you are okay with the individuals and town you will be living in for the next 4-years.  For example, Brunswick, Maine, was a pretty rural and somewhat backward town.  There was some racism involved and I did not always feel comfortable outside of college with the local "townies".  I probably would have fared better in a more metropolitan area, like Boston or Berkeley. 

This doesn't apply as much for individuals who are set on going to graduate school.  For these individuals, where you do your undergrad will mean little to where you will eventually end up.

Schools do matter (sort of):
Location matters unless you go to the top schools in the States.  Schools like Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, carry their prestige with them regardless of where you end up working.  Unless you go to one of these nationally recognized and well known Universities, it is better to just play it safe and choose somewhere more local.

One thing to understand too is where you go to school can play into where you end up working and living.  If you wish to eventually live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is smarter to go to a school in California vs. back east.  Recruiters who come to your campus will likely be recruiting from nearby locations.  For example, I went to school back east, and it was very difficult for me to find a job that was located in San Francisco.

When I graduated from college and started my bank job, I was working with individuals who graduated from Cal Poly and University of San Diego.  Looking back, I definitely spent a lot more money to go to a liberal arts college and ended up getting the same opportunities.

This is even true for my friend who is currently studying for his MBA at U.C Berkeley.  Even with a prestigious school like that, he is having trouble getting internships beyond the San Francisco Bay Area.  Conversely, another friend who received her MBA from Harvard Business School took over a year to finally get a job out here.

Know thyself:
The better you understand yourself, the easier you will be able to successfully select the schools you would like to go to.  During my high school days, I really only based on college application process on the rankings in US News and World Report.  Although the annual college report is a good yardstick to measure colleges by, this isn't the best resource to go to.  I also operated under a theory of quantity vs. quality.  Instead of spending time to write good essays and answers the application questions intelligently, I instead did everything rushed.  This resulted in a lot of schools rejecting my application.

You should start your research well before your Senior year in college, and get an understanding of the 5 colleges you may want to apply to.  Do as much work as you can doing research for those colleges, and if possible set up "informational" interviews to both meet the faculty as well as set up relationships with the admissions office.  Quality definitely will fair much better than quantity during the college application process.  In fact, if I did that I probably would have gone to Stanford University instead.  I did not end up going to Stanford even though I had a lot of connections through my high school science projects because... I missed the application deadline.  Stupid, huh?

Be realistic:
This goes without saying.  If you're getting straight "D" in class and failed on your SAT, you probably should not apply to Harvard.  Know your limits and choose realistic (but slight stretch) schools as your top 5.  This will make the process better.

End of the day, this decision will affect at a minimum the next 4-years of your life and likely the rest of your career and residence.  Take your time to figure this out, because it's better you spend an extra month now to be sure of what you want vs. the next 5 years of your life after college to get to where you should have been.

I will continue to add additional blogs on this topic as things come up.

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