If you're a prospective student reading this blog, chances are you're being inundated with brochures and application invitations from colleges and universities. These amusing/informative/engaging propaganda pieces (usually adorned with pictures of the campus in springtime) will begin filling your mailboxes--physical and electronic--shortly after you take the PSAT, provided you fill in the bubble marked "Send my information to every institute of higher education under the sun so they can court me if they so choose."
So, sometime during your junior (or, if you're an overachiever like me and take the PSAT twice, your sophomore) year of high school, you will begin getting these pamphlets, and fliers, and brochures, and e-mails. They will come from many schools. Some will be particularly persistent.
Even though you can mark your "intended major" on the PSAT form, I think most places don't screen for anything but your score level, so you might get repeated offers from places you have no interest in. I, for instance, got repeatedly urged to apply to a Something Polytechnical Institute. I can't even remember where it was now; all I knew was that I was most assuredly not going to any place that had "Polytechnical" in its name. Similarly, I'm sure aspiring engineers get contacted by art schools from time to time.
The good thing about this firehose effect, however, is that you will get sent information from schools all over the country. They will each provide you with enticing information about themselves and perhaps some comparisons to other schools. Even if you're not particularly interested in a school, sometimes it's worth scanning its vital statistics (size, regional diversity, racial diversity, percent of alumni donating, percent of students living on campus, rural/urban/suburban/small town, student body breakdown by major, and so forth) just to get a feeling for what is usual. A given school may tell you that only 11% of its students are from in-state or that 19% of the student body are international students, but those statistics are virtually meaningless unless you have a basis of comparison. (For the record, nearly every college will probably have at least 20% of its students coming from its state, and 19% international is pretty high.)
So you've got all this information coming in. The colleges are working very hard to recruit you and several thousand of your closest friends, and they will spare no detail in providing you all the information you may need to make your choice. Your challenge is to deal with all this information, to somehow assimilate it and keep it organized. Which naturally begs the question of how on earth you can do this and still have a life.
The answer varies, naturally, depending on how compulsive you are and how tightly you've narrowed down your options (ruling out all rural colleges, for example, or all colleges in the Northeast, or all colleges within your state, if you really feel the need to spread your wings). What I'm going to present is the system I used. It worked great for me--but then again, I am highly organized (or possibly compulsive . . .).
Look through the fliers before you recycle them. Even if you're sure you're not going there, look through the pamphlet for the reasons I described above. (You can also play my "stereotypical college pamphlet" game at the bottom of this blog!)
Get a pack of file folders and a box. A banker's box, ideally--this is the same width as the file folders and will hold lots of fliers.
Put the fliers you are keeping into this box. Keep fliers from any school you haven't immediately ruled out. You don't need to organize them at once--not until you start narrowing your search and consequently winnowing them down.
Winnow. Once you've narrowed your search, get out those folders. Label a folder for each school you're sure of applying to. For schools that are not on your absolutely-apply-here list, but that you are still considering, give them folders too--just remember to discard them if you decide against them. Inside each folder, place all relevant materials: fliers, pamphlets, and viewbooks, sure, but also copies of application materials, your essay for each, and a list of what needs to be submitted when. Do not neglect these lists! They are incredibly useful! Check off each element as you submit them. Then you know how close you are to being done. It's very satisfying.
Discard the other materials, the ones from schools you're definitely not going to apply to. If you're a packrat, this is going to be rough, because a lot of them will be pretty/clever/interesting. You may only save two or three. Purge.
Go through with it. Apply to the ones you have folders for. Toss the others. Keep copies of everything you've sent in. Save all this in case your application materials mysteriously go missing, undoubtedly stolen by enemy agents or eaten by wolves. Keep the copies as proof until you get your letters of acceptance/rejection/waitlist.
And that, my friends, is how you organize the information glut that is college propaganda. E-mails are easier to manage, of course--just create a folder (or a series of subfolders for each college) to store them in.
How to score your pamphlet for stereotypicality:
Stately building: two points.
-Extra point if the building has ivy on it.
-Extra point if the school is located in the Southwest (including California) and has a Spanish roof.
-Extra point if the building appears to have a tower.
Cherry tree in blossom: two points.
-Extra point if there is a path between rows of blossoming trees.
Students with backpacks walking across a green expanse, or sitting in a circle, or ranged upon a flight of stone stairs: Five points.
-Two extra points per barefoot student.
-One extra point if students are sitting/standing under a tree.
-Four Obie points if the tree has an albino squirrel in it.
Spa-esque recreation facilities: two points.
-Ten extra points if it's Kenyon's pool. I love Oberlin's pool--I lifeguard there, I swim there, I love it--but I was in Kenyon for a summer writing program once and I can honestly report that the pool is a cathedral that smells like chlorine.
Library that makes you want to live there: four points.
-One extra point for study carrels.
-Five extra points if there is a coffee shop in the library. (Azariah's Café at Oberlin is great. It's in the Current Periodicals/New Books room on the first floor of Mudd, Oberlin's main library. However, the big library at UW: Seattle is nearly as good, because through some trick of the ventilation system the whole library smells like coffee.)
-Three extra points for clever study nooks of some kind.
-Fifteen extra points for womb chairs, particularly if the school is Oberlin.
-Assign your own values for special collections according to your interests.
Students wearing sweatshirts or t-shirts (depending on the climate) with the college's name on them: five points.
Whacky tradition: one-five points, depending on how whacky the tradition actually is. Chasing professors across the quad at midnight, in drag, while carrying a duck named Embenezzer van Winkelsprout XIV on a modified dogsled--captured profs give all As--would probably count as a five, for example, but only if it has a title like The Hodgkins Quack Dash and has existed since the eighteen-forties.
Quirky classes: one point per.
-ExCos: two points per.
Timeline: two points.
Charts showing the most popular five/ten/twelve majors: two points.
Tables showing off generous financial aid: one point.
Regional/racial diversity pie charts: five bazillion points.
- (Seriously, everybody has those.)
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