Narrowing the Search

When a student starts contemplating what colleges might be a good fit, it can feel overwhelming. How do you trim a list of thousands of colleges down to something manageable to do research on? I’ve heard of students who picked colleges by choosing which school colors or mascot they liked best. That might narrow the field, but isn’t going to do anything to help find a school that is a good match.

One approach is to consider the academic major or professional goal the student is leaning towards and look for information from professional organizations or agencies that relate. 

A few examples:

All physical therapy academic programs from Physical Therapist graduate programs to Physical Therapy Assistant two-year programs are approved by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Its website explains the difference between being a PT and being a PTA, gives career outlook info, and explains the PT and PTA admissions process.  There is also a link to a Find a Program feature that lets you filter a search by program and location. 

Students interested in dentistry should investigate resources at the American Dental Association (ADA) pages for high school and college students, the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) pages for future dentists.  These professional organizations offer information about applying to and paying for dental school and what being a dental student and a dentist is like.

Students interested in cyber security should be aware of the list of institutions designated as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (CAE-C).    Only students at these schools are eligible for the DoD Cyber Scholarship, but this list may also be an indicator of the quality of the cyber security program available.

Would be engineers can check the ABET accreditation status of engineering programs and may also find colleges with engineering programs they hadn’t considered.   

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a list of colleges with Food Science programs

If you don’t know what organizations to look for, a starting place can be academic journals or conferences.  Colleges sending students to present posters at academic conferences may be those providing opportunities and support for students in those concentrations. Would be film producers might look for college based film festivals. It can also be worth taking notice of what colleges are doing research that you find interesting.

This process takes more time and effort than picking a college because you like fushia and orange or want to root for the Fighting Clams, but it’s more likely to help you find a college that is a good match for your interests and ambitions.

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