What to do FIRST before thinking of applying to colleges

“Where are you applying to college?”

It’s safe to say that this question has been asked an insane and overwhelming number of times. As a rising Senior, the number of times you’ll hear this question and even the IMPACT of how you feel when you hear it, will undoubtedly continue to grow. You know what? We are all asking the WRONG question. When you think about it, the question is too vague. It defines nothing. It gives us little to no response as to WHY a university is important, special or unique to you as the applicant. It provides us with limited information beyond the name of a university. That’s it. That’s all we learn. The name of the university.

Before you start building your college list, it is really important to go through some self-reflection. Oftentimes students dive into the nitty gritty details of the application process and skip right over the well-thought out, well-researched college list phase. Or their college list looks REALLY familiar to those who have applied before them.

It’s important to do some self-reflection and create a list of your interests, strengths, skills, wants, needs and values BEFORE researching colleges. You can’t find what you don’t know you’re looking for. A list of colleges that celebrate and enhance the fundamental core of what makes you…YOU. 

Get out a piece of paper and answer the following questions. Really, write it out. Then highlight the important points you noticed and keep them with you when your browsing colleges online. Create a college list that will ALLOW you to thrive to be your best individual self. And guess what…when you allow yourself to thrive, you succeed. It’s not just about where you go to college. It’s your experiences within that undergraduate time that you build a resume that will ultimately connect you to the next phase in your life…you know…a successful career! 

The “I’m going to self-reflect” exercise

Get out a piece of paper and answer the following:


  • What are my academic strengths and interest?
  • What major/majors and academic programs do I want on campus?
  • What kind of academic environment do I thrive in best? (Think of your favorite classes and why you did well in them?)
  • What academic support services do I want?
  • Any specialized programs? Scholars/honors, etc.
  • Research opportunities?


  • How do I spend my time outside the classroom?
  • What activities am I currently involved in that I would like to continue in college?
  • What type of opportunities do I want to have access to?
  • When I walk outside my dorm room and have some free time, what do I envision myself doing? Grabbing a coffee? Walking to a museum? Heading to the gym? A gaming room? Rock-climbing?
  • If you could draw the perfect environment surrounding campus, what would that look like? Are there a ton of buildings with subway stations, pedestrians and sky rises? Is there a quintessential “college town”? Do you have access to a metro taking you to the nearest city? Mountains? Trees? How close is the airport?
  • Social groups, religious affiliations, athletics. If I could create it, what would be on campus?
  • What opportunities do you see yourself taking advantage of? Internships? Pre-professional advising?


  • Religious groups/spaces on campus?
  • What do the students look like on campus? Think about campus diversity.
  • Are there any international/study abroad opportunities? If so, how accessible are they?
  • Political affiliations/involvement?
  • Faculty interactions and their level of access and support?
  • What’s the mission statement of the university?
  • Community outreach and service opportunities?
  • Study breaks, mental health services?

Finally, draw your university. Actually draw it. Or if you hate drawing, write a mission statement for a fictitious university. What’s the essence of your campus? If you could have anything, what would it look like? 

Don’t just know WHERE you want to go, but WHY you want to go there. Really own it!! You’ll have a more authentic application for it AND you’ll feel confident about where you’re applying. Go for it!


One response to “What to do FIRST before thinking of applying to colleges”

  1. […] What to do FIRST before thinking of applying to colleges […]


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