Where to Begin to Gather Information
We recommend the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which gives excellent thumbnail sketches of colleges, and the Princeton Review’s Best 376 Colleges. The College Advising Office offers a collection of college catalogues, videos, and viewbooks. Of course, the Internet is brimming with information. A few sites we have found useful for students are collegeboard.org, gocollege.com, and unigo.com. Individual college websites provide students with the latest information about their campuses and their admission criteria.
Deerfield subscribes to Naviance, an Internet database that we find to be tremendously helpful in the college search process. Deerfield juniors will be given a password/log-on to access the Deerfield Naviance data in February. Naviance helps students keep track of their prospective colleges, active applications, and gives them information about the likelihood of their admission to each college based on the results of previous Deerfield students. Naviance can show students exactly where they fall on a graph of test scores (x axis) and GPA (y axis) of other DA students who applied in prior years to each college. It is important to note, however, when looking at these graphs that “hooked” students (recruited athletes, legacies, underrepresented minorities, first generation college students, and development cases) are not flagged as such and will skew the averages somewhat. The Naviance graphs help students, advisors, and parents to develop a balanced list of “reach,” “possible,” and “safer” schools.
Most of our students go on to independent colleges and universities. The biggest hurdle that many of them face is their desire to apply to the same short list of colleges in which most of their classmates at Deerfield, and students at other New England boarding and day schools, are also interested. The Ivy League is setting new records each year for numbers of applications, from all over the world. Many smaller colleges (Amherst, Williams, Colgate, Middlebury, Bowdoin, for example) have benefited from the Ivy overflow and have also become highly, highly selective. It is imperative that students look beyond the Northeast and beyond the standard list in order to consider the full range of colleges available to them. Pay careful attention to two pieces of information as you consider a particular college: What percentage of the students who applied were admitted last year? And what are the average SAT scores of those admitted and how do they compare with yours.
A word of caution—please make your own decisions regarding the relative merits of colleges based on current information. It is easy to be influenced by stereotypes and past reputations, but times change and so do institutions! To be sure, some evaluations will appear whimsical or superficial (Was the sun shining when you visited? Did you have an attractive, charming, and witty tour guide? Was the interview particularly enjoyable?), while others are more profound (Does this college have the program you are seeking? Is there a good match between your ability and the intellectual life of the college?). Remember that different colleges appeal to different individuals for a variety of reasons, and try to base your opinions on first-hand knowledge of a particular institution’s unique characteristics coupled with a realistic understanding of the student’s needs and talents. U.S. News & World Report and other similar ranking systems give only the most superficial glimpse of a college; they are certainly not ranking with your individual needs and talents in mind.