A+ Scholarship Part 3: Finding Yourself in your College Search

August 3, 2020 

The process of applying to college and for scholarships results in more than just a college to attend and some money to pay for it. It also offers students an opportunity for self-discovery. In the final installment of the A+ Scholarship Series, you will learn how to successfully navigate the complexities of the college search in a way that helps you manage your expectations, your financial concerns, and your personal preferences, so you ultimately grow as a person and find the right college for you.

What expectations should one have about the college search?Finding Yourself in Yoour College Search

Colleges with name recognition, colleges that are popular with peers, and colleges attended by family members can be very appealing to students beginning the college search process. However, admissions counselor Joy Biscornet believes students who “start the process with preconceived ideas or biases […] close themselves off to great options” and recommends a more “open-minded” approach that emphasizes learning about and choosing what is right for you and not “what is right for other people.” In her article “Fit Over Name-Brand: Insight from a Former College Admissions Officer,” a former Assistant Dean of Admissions for Swarthmore College, agrees. In her view, finding “schools that match a specific student’s needs and interests” is paramount and “requires a commitment to analysis and self-reflection.”

What makes a college right for you?

To best answer that question, start by thinking of your specific needs rather than the qualities of specific colleges. In fact, CollegeXpress in its article “The Ultimate Guide to the College Search: How to Find Your Perfect College Match” suggests asking yourself, “What’s important to me?” and asking others, “What was the deciding factor in your college search?” To clarify your priorities further, you can also consider what makes a good college experience in general. College should be a place that suits your personality and your strengths while also challenges you to get out of your comfort zone. Max Boone, a student at Yale University, shares similar wisdom from his own college search in “Self-Discovery in the Admissions Process.” As he puts it, “Knowing that my personal journey in college didn’t depend on any specific school, and instead on what I hoped to get out of it, helped relieve the pressure.” 

How should financial concerns be factored into the college search?

In addition to the pressure of finding a college that best fits you, is the pressure to find a college that best fits your budget. A balanced approach is the best solution: don’t apply to or attend expensive colleges primarily for their name recognition or prestige, but also don’t exclude them just because you assume you can’t afford them. The bottom line, according to CollegeXpress, is to “always remember your future success is largely determined by you, not your college.”  

How do you handle surprises and rejection?

Once the college search ends and applications have been sent in, the process of personal growth continues as letters of acceptance or rejection arrive. In her article for Psychology Today, “College Rejection Letters — How to Cope When They Arrive,” F. Diane Barth offers advice to students dealing with the sting of rejection: once you have given yourself time to process your understandable disappointment, try to use it. As she says, “Disappointment can lead to creativity, personal strength and a growing capacity for problem-solving.” She also cites Frank Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, who reminds dejected applicants that their “future is going to be infinitely more reflective of the way” they spend their “college years, no matter the college.” Such constructive responses align with what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a “growth mindset, which views risk and effort as opportunities to fulfill your potential and to stretch yourself, even if you come up short.”

What do you learn about yourself and how do you stay true to yourself throughout the college search?

From reflecting on your needs and developing a list of prospective schools that best fit you, to completing applications, to processing rejection, the college search offers students opportunities to learn more about themselves and to grow. Be like Yale student, Max Boone, who says he came to view “each essay, short-response, interview, and college visit” as ways “to learn more about how [he] saw [his] future.” In short, “view the college admissions process as a journey where you build a relationship with yourself and learn to trust yourself, and become your own advocate. […] Embrace uncertainty, keep an open mind, and be kind to yourself,” as Juaquin from IvyWise says in “Focus on Self-Discovery When Applying to College.” 

Adam Powley, A+’s scholarship recipient, modeled this approach in his winning essay in which he described how he ultimately grew to appreciate that it wasn’t the “facade” of prestige offered by some schools that mattered most, but “following [his] passions” and becoming “who [he] want[ed] to be.” What Adam’s experience and the A+ Scholarship Series reveals, then, is that you should view the college search process as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery, whatever the outcome.

College admissions testing can be confusing and overwhelming. We’re here to help. We guide you through each step of the process, from choosing the right test, to designing a custom plan, to achieving your goals. At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring,  our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Susan Ware and Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.


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