Making the Most of Summer, PART I

Students sitting outside on the Willamette campus

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
― Yogi Berra

Ahhh, summer: It’s almost here! What are you looking forward to the most? Free time? An open schedule? Time with friends and family? The college search?

You may not have included “college search” on your list, but you should add it now. Hear me out….

Before you know it, your senior year will be here—along with the college and scholarship application season, which can be hectic. By committing a little time to the college search now, you’ll be better prepared for the process, less stressed in the fall, and thankful you have a plan in place that enables you to keep up with it all and not miss out on all the senior year fun.

This is the first of a three-part series about preparing for the college search over the summer and here’s step one: Come up with a core set of values and questions that help you assess how well colleges match up to those values.

1. Identify your values.
Many adults, including college counselors, start the process by asking WHERE and WHAT you want to study. To put together a list of colleges for you, first address the WHY and HOW. That is, why you want to go to college and how you learn best.

To start, reflect on the learning experiences that you’d like to have in college by asking yourself what’s worked in the past. For example, in what setting do you learn best? What factors help you engage in a project or conversation? Consider times when you surprised yourself by trying something new and what factors helped make that possible?

2. Hold colleges up to your measuring stick.
By creating a list of desired learning experiences and preferences, you can evaluate which colleges meet your academic needs.

For instance, if you enjoy project-based learning, ask an admission counselor to describe what learning looks like on their campus. If you excel with extended, deep dives into content, find out what percent of students participate in research. If hands-on learning is essential to you, look for real examples—in the classroom, through internships, or in campus activities.

3. Look at life outside of the classroom.
What you value in addition to academics is just as important to a college experience. Consider what hobbies make you happy or new experiences you hope to gain in college. What activities help you de-stress? Does the hustle of city life inspire you or do you prefer to be surrounded by nature? These are the types of considerations that can help evaluate a college’s “social fit” for you.

Be specific when researching campus life. Instead of asking, “What’s life like on campus?” try to address your personal interests. For example: “I play piano, but I don’t want to major in music. What performance or lesson opportunities are available for non-majors?”

Or, “Rock climbing is one way I work through stress and stay fit. Are there outdoor-program opportunities or an indoor climbing gym? If so, how often do students use it?”

Clarifying your own core set of values and assessing how well colleges fulfill them sets a strong foundation for your college search.

In the part II, I’ll share solutions for staying organized throughout the search process. Until then, let me know if I can help with your summer plans.

Mary Randers | she/her
Dean of Admission
Willamette University