OK, if you’ve heard of a college or university it is:
a. A state university.
b. One of the most successful of the 119 colleges that play Division I Football or one of the most successful 345 colleges that play Division I Basketball.
c. A college or university in your state or region.
d. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford. MIT, Cal Tech, West Point, or Annapolis
Pick someone you admire… take a quick look at whatever information source you choose (Wikipedia?) and check out the college that person attended. here’s a short list:
Jon Hamm, Brad Pitt, and Sam Walton – U. Missouri, Tom Hanks – Cal State Sacramento, Brad Paisley, Claire Booth Luce, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood – Belmont University, Branch Rickey (brought Jackie Robinson to major league baseball/ broke “the color line”) – Ohio Wesleyan University, Larry Ellison (Oracle) – U. Illinois, Stephen King – University of Maine, Eli Lily and John Jakes – Depauw University Denis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) – Eckerd College, Stephen Colbert – Hampden-Sydney College, Harrison Ford – Ripon College, Pete Dye, Anthiny Perkins and Fred Rogers – Rollins College, Harry Conick, Jr. – Loyola University New Orleans, Ellen DeGeneres – University of New Orleans, Margaret Wise Brown and Kiran Desai (authors) – Hollins University, Padma Lakshmi (Host of Top Chef) and Rocket pioneer Robert Goddard – Clark University, Craig Kilborn and Sarah Vowell – Montana State University… to name a few
The right fit is the most important part of selecting the colleges to which you may apply. Start by looking for the things that matter most to you – a particular kind of program, size, extra-curricular opportunities, culture, climate, campus “vibe”, how the college looks, dorms, internships, small classes, the chance to play sports, the chance to watch sports, programs abroad, diversity of people, particular sorts of activities, the outdoors, access to a city… whatever you think is important.
Start with the fit. Leave the names aside and give yourself a chance to think about who you want to be in the next four years of your life and with whom you want to spend those years. Be honest about your aspirations. Do you long for academic challenge and a truly demanding curriculum? Are you looking for balance or the chance to gain some experience while you study? Do you do well in large classes? Do you want a chance to be a bit anonymous?
Finally, the question I ask the seniors with whom I work – what do you love? What, more than anything, fires your engine, raises your pulse, gets you out of bed in the morning or keeps you up late at night? What is the single thing you are best at? What do you want to improve? Who do you hope to be when the college years are done? What do you hope to accomplish? Experience?
If you are honest with yourself and do the research, you’ll find a number of colleges that fit the bill.
Don’t worry that you haven’t heard of them. They haven’t heard of you yet either!