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How to come up with your college short-list

When it’s time to seriously start thinking about where to go to college, the number of options can become easily overwhelming. Thankfully, students and parents who have recently been through the process have some tips for vetting colleges to come up with a manageable short list of schools to look into.

The biggest things to consider when selecting where to go to college are simple concepts—location, price and programs—and that looks different for everybody.

Ericka Irizarry Villanueva and her daughter, Maria Santos Irizarry, live in Buffalo but hail from Puerto Rico. When Maria was looking at colleges, they worked together as a family to make the right choice.

“We looked at prices and how far away she wanted to go, and how far away we wanted her to be. That was important,” Villanueva said. “Then we made the decision all together.”

Irizarry is now a freshman at the University at Albany (a SUNY school) where she’s studying pre-med and psychology. And while she feels she made the right choice, she admits it wasn’t easy.

“I wanted a school close to home, but not too close,” Irizarry said. “I struggled a lot and didn’t know where I wanted to go. We looked at prices, location and transportation. I wanted to be in a city but not be overcrowded, so this was a mix of everything I wanted.”

Finding the right school isn’t a one-person job, though, and students shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the adults in their lives, whether it’s a parent or a guidance counselor.

Utilize your guidance counselors

“If you have a guidance counselor, talk to them,” Irizarry said. “My guidance counselor really helped me narrow down my list. And talk to your parents. They’re a huge part of it, too.”

Erin Cogan is the College and Career Readiness Counselor at Cleveland Hill High School in Cheektowaga. She says it’s a fairly new role, but that more and more schools are adding similar positions to their staff as college becomes more competitive.

“It’s amazing to be able to work with our kids and get them ready and excited and expose them to as much as possible,” Cogan said.

Cogan said guidance counselors and student services departments in general offer a lot of valuable information for college-bound students.

“When you’re meeting with counselors, make sure you talk about what it is you want to do after school and ask lots of questions,” she said. “Do research. Use career exploration websites. Spend as much time down in your school’s student services as possible. There are so many different jobs out there. If you’re interested in a certain field, talk to someone in that field about where they went to school.”

Money and majors

Daniel Curry, Peyton Barker and Amani Scott are seniors at Cleveland Hill and have already been accepted to their schools of choice. They used a practical approach when looking at schools.

“When I started really looking at colleges, it wasn’t hard to narrow down,” Curry said. “I looked for schools with good programs in the field I wanted. My dad taught the value of a dollar and I’ve always known economics would be a big part of this decision. I wanted a state school with lower tuition and more scholarships. I could get into a really expensive private school, but I’d rather not have to be in debt for as long.”

Curry landed on The College at Brockport (SUNY), and said it was the only school he applied to after he visited it.

Barker is also going to Brockport, for similar reasons.

“I knew I wanted to do communications to be a sports broadcaster or commentator,” Barker said. “I was recommended to Brockport by my parents and I noticed it had a good variety of communication majors.”

Amani Scott is going to the University at Buffalo where she plans to pursue a career in the medical field.

“It all came down to money,” Scott said. “Living in New York, there are a lot of options for scholarships. I wanted to find a school with a great medical program. Johns Hopkins is out of state, which costs lots of money, and I felt more comfortable being around family. I’ll be away from home but still home at the same time.”

Be flexible

Going to a school with options is never a bad idea, Cogan said.

“The likelihood that somebody’s going to change their major is so common, so to be able to go to a school with different options is important, too. Go in with an open mind.”

This was something Scott considered when she was making her decision. Entering the medical field is her current plan, but she is confident going to UB that if she does change her path, she will be able to do so without a lot of hassle.

“If I don’t really want to continue in my major, I know UB has other great majors they offer,” Scott said.

Take a tour, trust your gut

One piece of advice that everyone agreed was vital to making their school choices was to trust that gut feeling they all had when they realized they had found the right school during a tour.

“I remember Dan (Curry) toured a couple of campuses and he came back really excited after he toured Brockport, because he got the right feel from it,” Cogan said. “It’s so important for kids to actually tour the campuses and set foot on campus for that certain feel they’re going to get.”

It’s a feeling that’s unmistakable, according to the students.

“I took a tour and had that feeling, like, ‘This is the college for me,’” Scott said.

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