Read, Exploring Your Options

Exploring Your Options

The month of January is an exciting time for high school students and their parents and college counselors who support them. Seniors have mostly completed the process of applying to college, and are looking ahead to their second semesters and awaiting admission news that will arrive this spring. In the Penn admissions office, my staff and I are busy evaluating the 44,000+ applications we received for the class of 2022, a record number with notable increases across broad geographical boundaries and within programs including Artificial Intelligence, behavioral economics and STEM fields broadly defined. We are daily impressed by the resilience, curiosity and creativity displayed by our prospective students and are excited to welcome the class of 2022 to campus later this year.

At this time of year, we also turn our attention to working directly with high school juniors, many of whom will be beginning their official college planning process in the coming weeks. Several members of the Penn admissions staff have already traveled near and far this winter to participate in junior parent programs and student workshops, supporting the work of our secondary school colleagues and their efforts in positioning students for success in this process.

For students, this winter is an important time to lay the foundation for a thoughtful and reflective college search and choice process. Nowhere is this more evident than in the critical project of building an informed college list. For students, now is an important time to take stock of your interests, think about how and where you learn best, and consider what kind of community you wish to join. Asking yourself these big questions now – while you are still nearly a year away from submitting your applications – will give you time to explore your interests and identify a range of schools that might be a good fit for you. The framework provided by the 5 I’s and 4 C’s is a helpful way to organize your thinking and to identify what factors are most important to you as you search for colleges.

For students: when creating your college list, I encourage you to be as expansive as possible. Start by thinking about the essential factors in your college search – what are the guideposts that will determine the types of schools you will consider? Location, size, program offerings, proximity to home, or cost could be concrete factors that will tailor your search. Within those categories, keep an open mind and give yourself options. For example, if you’re a Philadelphia student and want to stay close to home, explore the many different types of colleges located in or near the city, ranging from the small to mid-size liberal arts colleges (Haverford and Swarthmore) to the cooperative research university (Drexel University) to a private Ivy League research university (University of Pennsylvania). Try to be as inclusive as possible within the categories you have identified. The more you allow yourself to learn and explore, the higher probability you have of landing on a campus that is a good fit for you, your interests and learning styles.

The purpose, ultimately, of creating an informed and comprehensive college list is to give yourself choices. After applying to a well-crafted list of schools, along a range of selectivity, you will likely have several good options from which to choose. At the same time, you will likely receive disappointing news along the way, either in the form of a deferral, a waitlist, or a denial. These decisions are a natural result of a selective admissions environment – a consistently higher demand than supply. These outcomes, while disappointing, might reshape your options at the moment, but with guidance and planning, they should not disrupt your game plan. With a thoughtful list, your successes should outweigh your disappointments, the result of a process considered carefully from the very beginning. Good luck!

Finally, Dean Furda’s and Eileen Cunningham Feikens’ (of the Dwight-Englewood School) show The Process will now air on SiriusXM Stars Channel 109 on the last Friday of every month, starting on Friday, February 23rd from 1:00-2:00 PM Eastern Time. Call in with your questions at 888-94-STARS (888-947-8277).

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