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Articles / Applying to College / Juniors: Using Your College Searchlight

May 11, 2015

Juniors: Using Your College Searchlight

If you are a high school junior preparing to apply to college this fall or winter, you have no doubt been thinking about where to apply. You probably have some “dream" schools in mind already and maybe your parents have even dropped some not-so-subtle hints about colleges they like for you. In other words, your quest for completing your list of colleges to consider is underway, subject to changes as you learn more about your candidate schools.

However, you might be one of those juniors who hasn't yet put serious thought into the college search process. You may be thinking that summer is the perfect time to start this important phase of your young life. After all, there are likely fewer distractions during the summer months, distractions like school work, SAT or ACT demands, school clubs and related extracurricular activities, to mention a few. You may be either a procrastinator or a very careful planner.

Regardless of which camp into which you fall — advance planner or one who believes later is better than never — you're busy right now with school's year-end requirements. You're thinking about Advanced Placement exams, maybe some Subject Tests, and/or another SAT.


Maybe you're also conducting a summer job search, now that school is winding down. If you're a spring-sport athlete, you've got practices and games to contend with, plus you've got a life, right? I hope so. Spring weather offers lots of opportunities to get outside and away from thinking about differential equations and the Laws of Thermodynamics.

In just a matter of months, you'll be a high school senior. You'll be amazed at how fast you can go from spring to fall. Summers are usually a blur, so start thinking ahead now. Maybe you can do some quality thinking during the summer blur, but human nature being what it is usually sidetracks advanced planning for teenagers. So, the challenge is to start thinking about which colleges best suit your higher education needs and which ones will see your application roll in.

Your parents may be willing, if you have the time (probably not), to help you squeeze in a couple college visits this spring before students leave campus. Visiting a college while the student body is in residence is unquestionably the best time to visit. You'll feel the energy of the students, experience the atmosphere of a “live" college campus, and maybe even get to sit in on a class or two. Plus, don't forget those college tours where you get to see how accomplished some people can be at walking backward.

When you ask yourself what you want from a college, don't be shy. What do you really want? Do you want a school that has a beautiful campus in a secluded part of the country or one that is in the heart of a big city? Are the school's “prestige" (whatever that means) and reputation important to you? Can you define what level of academics you prefer in your chosen area of concentration? How far from home do you want to be?

Will teaching assistants (TAs) instructing some of your classes satisfy you or do you want senior faculty teaching you? How about access to that faculty? Will your school have professors who are approachable in situations beyond office hours? How about student body size? How about the weather?

There are so many considerations. You are the one who should make the call, though. So what are you waiting for? Get out paper and pencil right now and write down what is truly in your heart about college. Even if you have never set foot on a college campus, you may have an ideal stored away in your dreams. Write it down. Over the next few weeks keep adding to your list.

Eventually, you should have quite a detailed summary of what you want from a college. Then it will be up to you to find some matches for your candidate list that will form the nucleus for your college search. Your research should come from guide books, campus visits, and your own honest reactions.

Now (trumpet fanfare) … it's time to search! But how? Well, that's easy.

The best source for your research is as close as your computer. SuperMatch is College Confidential's world-class college search tool. You'll see this statement greeting you:

Welcome to a new way to search for colleges. Our search utilizes a “fuzzy" approach to ranking your preferences. That way, not only do you get a list of schools that match your needs perfectly, but you'll also see the ones that come close.

To delve deeper into SuperMatch, for those of you who are a bit fuzzy about fuzzy searches, here's some interesting background on fuzziness:

Fuzzy logic is an approach to computing based on “degrees of truth" rather than the usual “true or false" (1 or 0) Boolean logic on which the modern computer is based. The idea of fuzzy logic was first advanced by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh of the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s. Dr. Zadeh was working on the problem of computer understanding of natural language. Natural language (like most other activities in life and indeed the universe) is not easily translated into the absolute terms of 0 and 1. (Whether everything is ultimately describable in binary terms is a philosophical question worth pursuing, but in practice much data we might want to feed a computer is in some state in between and so, frequently, are the results of computing.)

Fuzzy logic includes 0 and 1 as extreme cases of truth (or “the state of matters" or “fact") but also includes the various states of truth in between so that, for example, the result of a comparison between two things could be not “tall" or “short" but “.38 of tallness."

Fuzzy logic seems closer to the way our brains work. We aggregate data and form a number of partial truths which we aggregate further into higher truths which in turn, when certain thresholds are exceeded, cause certain further results such as motor reaction. A similar kind of process is used in artificial computer neural network and expert systems..

It may help to see fuzzy logic as the way reasoning really works and binary or Boolean logic is simply a special case of it.

Now that you're an expert on fuzzy search logic, get focused and start working with SuperMatch. My advice to you, if you haven't already done so, is to have a list of at least six (6) colleges that meet your comprehensive preferences by the time school ends this year. Then, over the summer add to and refine that list so that when school starts in the fall you'll be all set to take the next step in your college process: evaluation, visiting, and applying.

Turn your searchlight onto SuperMatch. You'll be glad you did.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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