Leighton Rowell
Leighton Rowell Credit:

One thing is certain: I want to go to college. My list of possible schools is extensive. The many people who have advised me in making the list advocate applying to an equal number of safety, target and reach schools.

Finding the perfect college can be difficult.

Touring and attending information sessions at prospective universities eases the stress, but not if you feel a sense of connection to each college you visit. So start early and you’ll be fine. If given a while to narrow down that long list, you’ll find several colleges that will be good fits financially, geographically and academically.

My search began two years ago, when I was a sophomore. I began with schools that fell into the “reach” category: Brown, Harvard, Columbia and Swarthmore.

Brown was the first on my list, and instantly became my first choice. All other visits paled in comparison. Harvard students came off as elitist, Columbia had required courses and Swarthmore was simply too stuffy.

I didn’t visit colleges again until this past March. This time I stayed in a suburb of Philadelphia and I took a trip to Bryn Mawr College, Princeton University and Haverford College.

Haverford wasn’t holding info sessions, so my impression was limited to the environment and people that I observed on the tour. I liked what I saw on campus and what I heard from the tour guide, an economics major, so Haverford rose to the top of the list. I texted my friend at Brown that I’d “found my second choice.”

My spring break itinerary this year didn’t include trips to the beach; instead, I had plans to visit Davidson College, the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, UNC Chapel Hill and Duke.

I have also visited the University of Georgia, Agnes Scott and Vanderbilt.

During my visit to UGA, I attended two classes: Honors Psychology and New Media. Both catered to my interests; I have never taken a psychology course but am heavily interested in the subject, and journalism is on my list of potential college majors. I had feared that UGA wouldn’t be a good fit, but after visiting, I’m sure I will be happy if that is where I matriculate.

The criteria by which I select potential colleges are constantly evolving. When I visited Brown, I wanted to attend a college in a city, but separate from the city. That meant crossing no heavily trafficked streets on my way to class. However, when I started to visit liberal arts colleges I realized that college in a small town had its benefits, as well.

Admissions and financial aid statistics that I learned of in information sessions played a huge role in my pick of colleges. I do worry that colleges with low acceptance rates won’t admit me, and I also fear that I might not receive an adequate financial aid package.

When you take the PSAT and SAT, you have the opportunity to sign up for a student search service, so colleges can send you unsolicited information.

Don’t be concerned if colleges that send you information are ones that you’ve never heard of. It’s important to take time to figure out which of these schools may be a good fit for you. The schools could fall into your “safety” or target school category. Just because they don’t have a big name doesn’t mean they aren’t worth checking out.

I, however, am the one who will make the ultimate choice. Whether I enroll at UGA or at Brown, I feel that I will have chosen wisely. My number one criterion is potential for happiness. Every one of the schools to which I’m applying has some characteristic—an impressive academic program, an engaged student body, a great location or an active government—that I believe will not only make me feel content, but also excited about my future.

Leighton Rowell, an intern with Reporter Newspapers, is a senior at North Springs Charter High School. She is interested in journalism and history. Leighton is North Springs’ student body president, Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and a member of the lacrosse team.

She is writing an occasional series about her experiences throughout the college application process.