To The Class of 2020

Your Sophomore Year is most likely going to be awesome!  You may start to think about college in the aspect that it’s not too far away and you have to start to prepare soon, but nothing really has to be done right now…right?!?  Actually, now is the perfect time to start taking action steps towards college.  Here are five tangible goals to achieve your sophomore year: Continue to do well in school, take as many AP classes as possible, join clubs and sports teams that interest you (don’t sign-up for everything!), develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend, and lastly, take a practice ACT or SAT test. Let’s further break down those steps.

 

Step One: Continue to do well in school. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, some high school sophomores seem to fall into a slump often pegged, “the sophomore slump”.  Students find their stride as sophomores and are content with their classes, schedule, and homework levels.  Some students tend to hit cruise control and coast through the year. After all, everyone knows you take the ACT/SAT next year and get “really serious” about looking at colleges as a Junior. Not true. Now is the time to focus on your grades to build the foundation you’ve already set as a freshman. Sophomores need to at least maintain, if not improve their grades to set the standard for the rest of their high school career.

 

Step Two: Take as many AP classes as possible. Taking AP classes is a great way to beef up your high school resume and challenge you throughout your high school career. These college-level classes are a great way to gain experience that colleges will recognize on your high school transcript. If you can maintain a good grade in these rigorous classes they are worth it.  However, if you find they are bringing down your grades, which will lead to a lower grade point average, then it may not be worth your time.  Know your limits and decide if it’s right for you.

 

Step Three: Join clubs and sports teams that interest you.  Let me preface, I didn’t say sign up for every club and sports team imaginable.  Only sign up for ones that you are genuinely interested in and you will enjoy. If you sign up for everything, you will get burned out, especially if you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with AP classes.  Start an activity resume you can use in a college interview and applications process. Activities are an intricate part of athletic recruiting and fine arts opportunities. Don’t be afraid to join a club that isn’t well-known or popular. If that’s what piques your interest, go ahead and join! Colleges will find a lesser-known club perhaps more interesting than a well-known club half of the college applicants are a part of. Stay interesting!

 

Step Four: Develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend.  Start with local colleges, state colleges, ivy-league colleges, or just a college based on location! The point is to start looking to see which schools you may be interested in. Many factors play into deciding on a college that’s right for you, such as a college major, size of college, location of college, religious beliefs, your own ACT/SAT score and/or GPA. Create a list that is both realistic and challenging for you.  Resist the urge to settle for a school that’s so-so.  As a sophomore, you have time to increase your GPA, study for the ACT/SAT, take AP classes, and join clubs, but if you don’t have a list of potential colleges, what’s the point of working so diligently?

 

Step Five: Take a practice ACT or SAT test.  Get Smarter Prep offers Free Practice Tests every Saturday morning. There is no excuse not to take a practice test.  The purpose of a practice test is to offer a baseline score of where you stand with either the ACT or the SAT. Are you much stronger in the math section than the reading section?  Or do you score evenly in English, Math, Reading, and Science? How do you feel about the timing piece of the test? Did you feel rushed on the ACT, but not the SAT? Are you comfortable with the score you received on the practice test or do you need tutoring? These are all questions we can give you answers to after you take a practice test. Plus, it’s always a bonus to take a practice test before the real deal to become more comfortable and acquainted with the type of questions the test makers are looking for. Sign up for a practice test today. 

 

Is your sophomore year going to be the best year for you in high school?  Of course we can’t answer that question, but we want you to be aware of the potential your sophomore year has on your college process. Now is the time to start planning for your future. Good luck!

College Abroad? Does It Make Sense for You?

Many of us have dreamt about attending college abroad at one point or another. The food, the sights, the experiences.  But is it a reality? If it is a reality, how much does it cost compared to a degree here in the states?  In the United States, a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college averaged $24,610 including room and board. A “moderate” budget for a private college averaged $49,320 also including housing and meals. How much more can college abroad cost?    

There are a couple of factors that need to be considered if you want to study in Europe. First there is the obvious, average tuition fees.  Secondly, the average living costs. Let’s take a look at some of the top countries to study abroad.

Coming in at #1 is Italy. No surprise there. The incredible food, the culture, and the history of Italy is enough for anyone to visit, let alone stay for a year. The average annual tuition fees is $920-$1,100 at undergraduate level at public universities. The average living costs is $15,600 per year. Still too costly for you?  We have good news. The same scholarships and grants that are offered to local students are also offered to international students. 

If your goal is to immerse yourself in Spanish history and rich culture, then you should study abroad in Spain, which comes in at #2.  The average annual tuition fees at undergraduate level in public universities is $1,430-$1,620. The average living costs are $11,800-$14,400.  You may begin your academic year with broken Spanish, but you may very well complete the year speaking Spanish fluently.

If Harry Potter is more up your alley, then the #3 location is right for you. England is a fantastic choice if you want to indulge in a different culture, but aren’t interested in learning a new language. English is spoken everywhere, although with a slightly diverse accent in different parts of the country. The average annual tuition fees at undergraduate level is between $20,000-$40,000. The average living costs are $12,400 – $14,000.

Another option that most people are unaware of are Consortiums; an association of two or more individualscompaniesorganizations or governments (or any combination of these entities) with the objective of participating in a common activity or pooling their resources for achieving a common goal.  There are numerous Consortiums around the Unites States, with programs running throughout the world. One of the most popular Consortiums is perhaps the Big Academic Alliance who collaborates with ten well known Universities including, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and Purdue University among others. Not only are the students able to study at ten different Universities in the U.S., but they also include study abroad programs at more than 70 locations worldwide. Different study abroad programs vary from two weeks to six weeks to a semester or even a full academic year. Costs vary tremendously depending on the length of the study abroad program as well as the chosen destination.

If a liberal arts college is right for you, there is a Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, which is similar to a Consortium.  The CCCU includes over 180 Christian institutions around the world, with 30 or more institutions in 18 countries.  Their study abroad program, perfectly titled Best Semester, includes study abroad programs in Australia, Costa Rica, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, England, and Uganda. The average semester tuition fees range from $12,000-$19,000 and does include full room and board.

Study Abroad programs are available throughout many college institutions, but the difficult question is which one to choose from? Where do you have your heart set on exploring? Which culture do you want to dive into? Who says you have to pick one location?  Some programs offer numerous city destinations within a country or you may want to explore on your own and travel to two, three, four or five different countries while studying abroad.  No matter which path you choose, broadening your horizons and learning about a culture outside of your own will surely enlighten you and open your eyes to the diversity in our world.

The GRE, GMAT, and LSAT – Which Test to Take?

In the past, deciding which exam to take in preparation for graduate level education was relatively straightforward: the GMAT for business school, the LSAT for law school, and the GRE for almost everything else. However, more recently, more business schools have begun to accept the GRE in addition to the GMAT. The GRE’s homepage calls the test “the smartest way to graduate and business school.”

In addition, Harvard Law has recently announced that they will accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. Although Harvard is only the second law school program to make this move, their prominence lends a credibility to the test substitution, signaling the possibility of a major change in law school admissions overall.

So which test is for you?

We say this a lot at Get Smarter Prep, but this decision does depend significantly on which school you want to attend. If you’re looking at a graduate program outside of business or law, then the GRE is the pretty clear choice. For business schools, the picture is a little more complicated. A significant number of business schools accept the GRE, but not all do.  Beyond that, even if your school does accept the GRE, they may prefer the GMAT, or they may view a student who submits a GRE score as less serious about the business school path than one who submits a GMAT score. This makes a bit of sense, at least – if I want to keep my options open, I am more likely to take a GRE, which is accepted for multiple kinds of programs. But these hypotheticals depend upon the business schools on your list. If you do find that the schools to which you’ll apply will accept either, consider taking a practice version of each test to see where you fare better. ETS has released a comparison tool that might help you evaluate scores.

For prospective law school students, at least for now, the picture is a bit clearer. After many years of pushing back against any school that deigned to break away from the mandatory-LSAT track, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) is considering revising their rules to permit schools to use the GRE. Any changes likely would not be in effect until the 2018-2019 admission cycle, so depending on when you plan to apply, these potential changes may not impact you at all. If the rules are changed, it would be a significant change for LSAC, and for students going through the application process. But unless the only two law schools on your list are ASU and Harvard, for the moment, it looks like you’ll be diagramming logic games with the rest of us.

 

New Office in Mission

Get Smarter Prep is excited to announce a brand new office located at 5920 Nall Avenue, right in the heart of Mission, KS!

The Mission Office is replacing our Overland Park Office on 87th street. We opened our doors to the new location on March 16th, 2016. Alongside our Leawood Office, Mission is now offering all of our tutoring services.

We’re happy to be part of such a vibrant neighborhood that’s full of other local businesses and attractions. While in the area, you can grab a coffee or pastry at Dips & Sips or pick up a new novel at Rainy Day Books. We are adjacent to Pearl Harbor Park and a historic site of a watering hole along the Sante Fe Trail. We’re also only 8 minutes from the Plaza!

Also, we’re excited to be in a better position for our families. We’re now just 5 minutes from both Pembroke Hill and Bishop Miege, 7 minutes from Kansas City Christian, 8 minutes from Shawnee Mission East, 10 minutes from St. Teresa’s Academy, less than 15 from Maranatha, and 15 minutes from Park Hill South.

Check out more photos on our Facebook page!

 

Social Media in Admissions

Will that post come back to haunt you? According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Certain violations on social media have the potential to completely end an applicant’s case for admission.” Depending on where you apply, the chances that your online presence will be scrutinized vary significantly. Some schools just don’t have the time, and some actually prohibit the practice.

The NY Times reports that, at Oberlin, “admissions officers may review only the material submitted by students as part of their application.” That means they’re prohibited from considering other information in making their decision. Washington College in Chestertown, Md., takes a more moderate approach. “Admissions officials do not proactively seek out candidates on social media. But while monitoring the college’s brand online, admissions officers often happen upon applicants who have publicly commented on the college, and they immediately forward those posts to Satyajit Dattagupta, the vice president for enrollment management.”

Do those posts affect admission chances? You bet. Dattagupta “looked favorably” on applicants who kept things positive, but was “troubled” by students who spoke negatively about any college online.

What Colleges Are Looking For

According to Kaplan, 35% of admissions officers look for information about students on social media, and 16% report that they have found things that negatively affected a student’s chances. Protecting online reputations has become big business – Forbes reports that companies may charge as little as $100/year for a simple service to alert them to problematic material, or as much as $1300/month to bury troublesome information on the third page of Google search results.

OK, you’re thinking, I know all of this. None of this is new. You’ve changed your privacy settings or even deleted your accounts. You’ve gone underground, and you’d challenge an admissions officer to even find any trace of you online, at all. You’re all set, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. You might be missing an opportunity. US News suggests using social media in your favor to support your application, demonstrate interest, and create a positive presence. Monitoring your privacy settings and removing photos of you holding a red Solo cup? That’s 101-level stuff. Let’s talk about the advanced version.

How To Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Is your application an ode to your service work? Post pictures of that work on Facebook. Passionate about sports or music? Upload videos of your performances. Are you proud of your writing or design skills? There are plenty of ways to create an online presence that reflects those things and will support your application, should your admissions rep go digging.

Social media can also facilitate networking with schools and demonstrating your interest and interacting with them in ways beyond the traditional campus visit. Consider seeking out programs that catch your interest, and even specific professors you’d like to work with, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It won’t take much time, but it can make a difference to your admission chances.

Guessing on Standardized Tests – LotD-R

I apologize if this is a little more “dense” than most of our wonderful blogs – just bear with me & I think we’ll learn a little something new together!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – Letter of the Day Strategy

Many tutors use various strategies when it comes to guessing on the ACT – one of the most common strategies is the Letter of the Day Strategy. With this approach, if a student comes across a question that they don’t know the answer to (and can’t do any eliminating of other answer choices) or if they are running out of time and need to fill in bubbles – they use the same letter every time throughout the entire test. Guessing is a very important and easy concept for a lot of tests – particularly the ACT and LSAT, as many if not most students have trouble with the timing of these tests.

Using the LotD Strategy is considered to be the gold standard of guessing methods – as it gives you the best shot at getting one out of four questions correct on average (or one out of five in the Math portion of the ACT). Randomly guessing is much riskier: you may have a chance to get more of the questions correct, but you also have a chance of getting all of the questions incorrect. **(You still technically have a 25% chance – 20% in Math – of getting the question correct – but the odds are now positioned in a much riskier manner, statistically speaking).

While the LotD Strategy is certainly a good, risk-aversion approach to guessing on standardized tests, particularly multiple-choice test, I think for many students it is found lacking based upon a given student’s performance leading up to the guessing. What if we can increase the odds of getting questions correct from 25%, on a four answer choice test, to 30-40%?

Regression Toward the Mean 

In statistics, there’s a phenomenon call Regression Toward the Mean – which basically says that even when things are randomized, there’s a tendency for the average to be achieved over a larger sample size. For instance, if you are looking at just four Reading ACT questions, the odds that one of the answers will be A/F is ¼, but in such a small sample, it could be that it will be two correct answers or more. Or conversely, none of the answers could be A/F.

When looking at the Reading test as a whole, the sample is larger (40 questions total), so the odds that ¼ of the questions’ correct answers are A/F becomes more reliable, as the random variance has been reduced (not eliminated – as there can still be statistical anomalies).

What does this Mean?

What does this mean for a student on test day?! Particular students who are accurate with the questions that they’ve answered, but still have timing issues with particular sections (very common on many entrance exams), can improve their odds of guessing correctly by applying the aforementioned statistical concept.

For example, if a student has ten questions remaining in a set of 40 questions, they can quickly take inventory of the answer choices they’ve selected on the first 30 questions and guess the letter that has been used the least. If done correctly, the student should have a good opportunity to increase their accuracy in their guessing – which in the end will lead to a higher score.

The LotD-R strategy isn’t for everyone – and learning to quickly assess previous answers is a new skill that many haven’t previously practiced – but for some students, the strategy will allow for an improved score with minimal effort.

– Caleb Pierce

Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II

Tips for a successful school year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year. For Part I of this series, which focuses on Freshmen and Sophomores, please click here!

For Juniors

1) Breathe.

For many students, Junior year is the most stressful of their high school career. Remember to balance self-care with all of your other goals. “Challenge yourself” is not the same thing as “destroy yourself at the altar of academic and extracurricular perfection.” Part of time-management is knowing when to take a break.

2) Continue taking challenging courses.

For many Juniors, Junior year means AP courses. Be realistic, but challenge yourself. Talk with your counselor about the right number of AP courses based on the classes you’ve taken so far and your future goals.

3) Pursue leadership roles within extra-curricular activities.

Stick with the activities you’re most passionate about, and consider becoming more active within those environments. Look for opportunities to pursue leadership roles and responsibilities

4) Create (or Narrow) Your College List.

If you don’t have a college list, now is the time to start. If your list currently includes every mid-sized private school with a decent psychology program, it’s time to start narrowing. Keep researching, evaluating what’s important to you, and work towards creating a list of schools that you’re truly excited about.

5) Visit More Colleges.

Take tours, meet professors, and sit in on classes. Visiting will help eliminate some colleges from your list and solidify the position of others, and it’s also a great way to demonstrate interest.

6) Get your test scores in order.

If you haven’t taken a Practice ACT, do so. If you have, and you’re happy with your score, take a real test, get an official score, and move on with your life! If you’ve taken a practice test and want to boost your score, work with a tutor to get the score you need.

7) Start thinking about recommendation letters.

Think about which teachers you might want to ask, and plan to do so in the second half of Junior year. Participate in class and make connections with your teachers.

For Seniors

1) Keep up your strong academic performance!

Senior course selection and grades are important! Remember, colleges are interested in your trajectory. Keep challenging yourself with difficult courses, including AP/IB classes, and keep your GPA up.  How you perform in difficult classes your senior year will give admissions officers insight into how well you will do in challenging college courses.

2) If you need to, take the ACT or SAT one more time.

Do you need one more point to get into the middle 50 for your top school? Go for it. Take one more ACT. Don’t take one more ACT if you’re “just wondering” if your score might go up, and you haven’t spent/don’t have any time to spend on prep.

3) Ask for recommendations.

If you didn’t do so at the end of Junior year, ask for letters as soon as possible. Your favorite English teacher is going to be asked to write recs for a lot of students. Writing good recommendations takes time, and bad recommendations are not going to help you.

4) Get organized.

Know your deadlines – applications, scholarships, everything. Make a plan and stay on task. Filling out applications can be overwhelming unless you break the process down into manageable steps. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.

5) Keep visiting colleges.

Even after applications are submitted, you may want to keep visiting colleges. If you apply to 6, 8, or 10 schools you’re really excited about (and hopefully you ARE excited about all of your schools), you may need more information to make your final decision.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Overcoming Testing Anxiety

It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous before a test. Actually, a small amount of stress can be beneficial to you, as it drives you to prepare well and can help you maintain your focus. But for some students, the stress associated with testing becomes overwhelming and hinders their ability to concentrate and perform well on an exam. These students often blank out on all of the answers they had committed to memory before the exam began or feel so nervous about completing the exam that they waste time and energy anxiously checking the clock every few seconds. The latter is especially a problem for students dealing with timed tests (like the ACT!), but it can affect students in environments without strict time limits as well, particularly if a student feels they are a slow reader or slow test taker.

So if testing anxiety is so debilitating, how can you overcome it? If you’re bogged down by an inordinate amount of worry and self-doubt with regard to your testing ability, you have to take steps to replace your doubt with confidence. If stress and uncertainty are the root of testing anxiety, then surely confidence is the solution!

Developing good study skills and preparing adequately for a test are essential for building confidence. If you systematically study and practice the material, then you will feel considerably more comfortable taking the exam. Your preparation shouldn’t start the night before the test, because this will only lead to more stress! If you try to cram in too much information at once, you’re liable to feel extremely overwhelmed and underprepared. Instead, start preparing weeks in advance and examine the material slowly and thoroughly. This also gives you the opportunity to ask your teachers and peers for clarification on concepts you don’t understand along the way. If you wait to look at the material the night before only to find that you don’t understand it, it’s too late!

Studying should also involve ensuring that you know as much about the test as possible. You need to explore questions about the exam’s makeup. Will there be multiple choice questions? What about essays? How many questions total will you need to complete? Is there a time limit to the test? If so, about how much time will you have for each question? If there is a time limit and that stresses you out, begin working with practice problems under timed environments so that you become used it.

You also need to prepare yourself mentally. If you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, work on developing a positive one instead. When you find yourself thinking about how you can’t succeed, combat this negativity with a new thought: I will succeed. I will ace that test. I’ve been studying for weeks and I know the material. Once you get in the habit of thinking this way, it will become your default.

Additionally, develop relaxation techniques. Different things work for different people, but some examples include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and visualization. Explore different options and find one that works for you, and then use it to help you cope when you start to feel anxious.

Finally, if you take all of these steps and still feel that anxiety is impeding your performance on exams, don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help! Sometimes, in addition to stress about exams, students feel ashamed of their anxiety, which only leads to even lower self-confidence, which leads to worse performance, becoming a self-feeding cycle. Testing anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of! If you need help, talk to your parents, teachers, and friends, and don’t be afraid to see a counselor.

Claire Engel is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences

Name: Emma Koerper
College: Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences
Major: Nursing

1. What first drew you to Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences?
I was drawn to healthcare because of many personal experiences. I volunteered at a few different hospitals during high school and knew that I wanted to be in the medical field. I chose nursing because I love the patient contact and the schedule. I chose Saint Luke’s for my nursing degree because it was close to home and had a reputable program.

2. What other colleges were you considering?
I originally attended Saint Mary’s College, but decided to transfer when I switched my major from Biology to Nursing. I transferred to KU to complete my nursing school pre-requisite courses prior to starting at Saint Luke’s College. I was also considering Auburn.

3. How was the adjustment from high school to college?
My adjustment from high school to college was fairly easy. I believe my time at Notre Dame de Sion helped prepare me for college.

4. What was your favorite class? Why?
My favorite class was my Pediatric Nursing class because I love working with children and their families.

5. What clubs or groups were you involved in?
I was a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority during my time at the University of Kansas.

6. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?
I love the opportunities Saint Luke’s College gave me in order to prepare me to be the best nurse that I can be!

 

Rankings vs. Fit, Part IV

Rankings vs. Fit Part IV

In this series, Audrey dissects a recent debate over the merits of Ivy League Universities which has opened up a much broader and more important conversation – one about choosing colleges and the importance of looking beyond selectivity and rankings when choosing a school. This is Part Four of the series. Here are the other posts: Part I, Part II, Part III.

At the end of Part Three, I suggested there were four “corners,” or major sets of considerations, to assist in narrowing your college list from “all of the schools in the known universe” to “6 or 8 or 10 or however many applications one person can actually complete.” Those corners are Geography, Academics, Extracurriculars, and Amenities.

Geography

You may have been told that you can find your niche anywhere, and to some extent, that’s true. But it will be easier to find opportunities to go cross-country skiing in Minnesota than Louisiana. Do you have strong feelings about trees? Snow? Squirrels? Ragweed? Elevation?

Here are some geography questions to ask yourself: How far from home do you want to be? Do you want to be able to dash home on a weekend with a car full of laundry, or are you happy with Christmas and summer?

What kind of weather do you want to live with for the next four years? Do you really hate cold? Or heat? Or rain?

Do you want to be near the mountains? The ocean? Would you prefer an an urban campus integrated into a large city, or a peaceful retreat with tree lined walks and mossy brick and people playing frisbee on the quad?

Academics

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Do you have a ready answer, or are you now caught in a wave of panic? Either way, you can narrow your list! If you know what you want to do, you have a passion and a focus, it’s important to find a school that has that field. Meet with some professors, or at least send some e-mails. Talk to them about your interests.

If you have no idea what you want to study, you probably want to avoid schools that have a very limited focus or ask that you pick a major immediately. You may want to look for schools that encourage you to explore a few different subjects your first year or two. And even if you have no idea what your future looks like, you should be able to find a major, or two, or three, on the list of the college in question, and think to yourself, “Hm. Maybe.”

How about class size? Picture yourself in a lecture hall with 50 or 100 other students. Then picture yourself in a room with ten students and one professor who knows your name and expects you to have something interesting to say. One of those might sound horrible. Most schools will have some of each the distribution varies pretty widely.

Do you think you might want to go to graduate school? Some schools send a lot more students on to get PhDs than others. What about opportunities for undergraduate research or study abroad programs?

Extracurriculars

What keeps you sane? What keeps you centered? What has been your refuge throughout high school when things were a little overwhelming? Your ideal college should offer some opportunity to do that, whether it’s basketball or saxaphone or religious services of your denomination, either on campus or near by. If art is your hobby, but you don’t want to major in it, would you be able to enroll in studio classes, or are they restricted to studio art majors?

In addition to the hobbies and activities you know are important, what new things do you hope your college will have? Take a look at the list of clubs and activities at a few different colleges and universities – what kinds of clubs are (and aren’t) offered can provide a lot of insight into the culture.

How important is Greek life (or avoiding Greek life) to you? What about sports? The idea of a whole campus decorated in school colors and excited about the next game might seem a necessary part of your college experience, or something you’d rather avoid entirely.

Amenities

It’s not enough to say, “nice dorms.” I loved my dorms. They were historic, with beautiful wood floors and high ceilings and old radiators that knocked and clanked all night in the winter. They had no air conditioners or elevators, but huge closets and plenty of windows. Old buildings are pretty, but they do come with some limitations.

What is “nice” to you? Also, beyond the building itself, think about policies. How do you feel about gender divisions in housing? Is it important to you that you be in a quiet or substance free dorm? What about restrictions on visiting hours, or even curfews?

“Good food” is not obvious, either. Having a choice between eighteen fast food options might sound amazing to you, or it might sound like torture. Do you have dietary restrictions for religious or health reasons? What are the vegetarian options like?

How about the athletic facilities? Art museum? Library? Weird little underground student-run pub?

Some of these things will seem very important to you. Others will seem silly and not worth considering. But by coming up with your own list of must-haves, you can rank colleges for yourself, and (hopefully) end up with a list of schools that fit you, not some obscure list of criteria made up by someone you’ve never met. And since you’re the one actually going to the college in question, it seems like that might be more important.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.