Christina Summers is an intern for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is going into her junior year at Marist College where she is majoring in communications with a duel concentration in journalism and public relations, and a minor in fashion merchandising. She will be contributing content to Education Speaks throughout the summer from the unique perspective of a college junior.
As a proud ambassador for my school, Marist College, I get the opportunity to interact with prospective students who are in the midst of their college search process. I was one of the few lucky ones who knew where I wanted to go to college at the tender age of 10 years old, and now I’m attending my dream school. However that is a rare case, and through my experience as an ambassador I’ve learned a few tips on what to look out for when applying to schools. The college search process can be intimidating. First off, it means that you’re becoming old enough to even go to college. To think that in a few short years you’ll be packing up your room, leaving your mom’s home cooking and transitioning into one of the first stages of adulthood, it would cause anyone to panic a little. But is can also generate a lot of excitement for what’s to come. But before you start picking out your mini fridge and single XL bedding, you have to figure out where you’re headed. Here are a few key elements to keep in mind to help make your college search process a little bit easier.
I hate to say this but your mother was right—the most important thing to consider when you first start looking for the right college or university is if they offer your potential major/minor. Even if you are going in undecided, take a look at what resources the college offers for undecided students and the timeframe you have to decide on a major. It is a nightmare to fall in love with a school to soon realize that they don’t offer what you’re looking to study. So save yourself some heartache and start making a list of schools that offer your intended major. Another aspect to look into is if the college offers any study abroad options. You don’t need to decide now if you want to spend a semester in another country, but it’s a bonus to have the option available to you.
2. Your Potential College Town
One aspect that I completely overlooked when applying to schools was the town that the prospective school is located in. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the campus and everything the school has to offer, but what’s outside your campus walls? When you go away to school, you’re not just moving into a dorm, you’re moving to the surrounding town as well. Is there a bank or ATM nearby? Do you want to be near a big city? Where is the closet Chipotle? (At Marist it’s 45 minutes away. Just devastating.) After you visit the college campus, explore the town that it’s in. Ask where the best restaurants and shopping centers are. Find out if there are any locations for more student-centric activities. It’s important to factor this into your search process because this will be your home for the next four years.
The main objective in attending college is landing a job once you graduate to help pay off all those student loans. The most promising way to build up your resume and to get ahead in the job market is by taking an internship. Internships are either paid or for-credit job positions that place students in the real world in their particular field of study. Some schools require that you do one or multiple internships during your four years. According to Marist College communications coordinator Gerry McNulty, the current average college undergraduate completes two to three internships during their four years. The more internship opportunities your college offers the more likely it is for you to land that first job after college (and sometimes, even when you’re still in college!)
4. Campus Activities
Extracurricular activities in college are a lot different then they were in high school. The majority of students on campus are involved in some type of organization outside of regular classes. Take advantage of the organizations and clubs that your college may offer because these too can be used as resume builders and potential leadership positions. Many campuses have professional organizations such as Teachers of Tomorrow, Society of Professional Journalist, Public Relations Student Society of America, just to name a few. These professional organizations can connect you with alumni members in your field, which can help lead you to future job opportunities. Colleges also offer a variety of other extracurricular opportunities such as Greek life, intermural sports, band/choir and academic societies. These are great outlets to meet people that may end up becoming lifelong friends.
5. Trust your gut
When looking at colleges, the best way to get an accurate feel for student life is to visit the campus. I already knew I loved Marist, but the moment I stepped foot on the campus, it immediately validated my thoughts on the school. If you can, try to stay on the campus after you take a tour. Wander around, talk to current students and investigate your potential new home. If it feels right to you, it most likely is.
The number one tip to take away from this piece is to keep an open mind. You’d be surprised by what opportunities you’ll take advantage of when you’re in college that you never even imagined doing. College is all about new experiences, testing your limits and discovering yourself. Picking the right place to do it at can be stressful, but more importantly, it’s just a part of the journey.