Before you can successfully select a four-year university or college to which to apply--one that offers the classes you want to take, and the major, minor, or concentrations within majors that you want to declare--you'll need to review several undergraduate school catalogs. These publications are thorough descriptions of a school's academic offerings, including specific course descriptions, together with faculty biographies, extracurricular activities, scholarship opportunities, elements of student life, sports and cultural events and opportunities, and available options for financial aid, including work study positions and assistantships.
These tips will help you collect and review those catalogs:
- Start early. If you are in high school, or are the parent of a high schooler, the junior year isn't too early. If you are a nontraditional student, decide when you want to begin and work backwards, with a January goal for applications, a month for application process, and anywhere from one to six months for the evaluation and selection of colleges, based on your understanding of yourself and how much time you'll need to make a choice. The decision of which college is ultimately picked begins with this step, and it's an important one. Give yourself plenty of time to review these schools fully.
- You'll need to first identify which schools you are interested in further researching. You may want to give some thought here to geography, reputation, rankings--whatever criteria you choose, be overinclusive at this step. You can always winnow down later.
- Your first step should be locating the college or university website. Explore the site for admissions and academic information. Sometimes a college will include its catalog on its site as a PDF file. However, you may find that you prefer the print version, which allows you to make notes and tab particular information for comparisons later on.
- To request a print version, you can either look up the admissions department for each school or you can invest a few bucks into a guide or directory of programs, which will list contact info for each school included. If you decide to purchase one of these guides, it may be worth your time to actually thumb through the choices available. There are many such publications on the market, with varying focal points and degrees of accuracy or completeness. Finding the one that's best for your needs may require direct comparison.
- Contact the schools on your list and request a copy of the undergraduate catalog. Usually this can be done through a telephone call, or the school may ask that you fill out a special form on its website.
- Whichever method you choose ultimately, make a list of schools that you do contact and note the date and method of your request. This will help you keep track of the catalogs when they begin to arrive.
- Once the catalogs begin to arrive, it's important to evaluate the different schools on the basis of similar criteria. It can be helpful to make notes on each school in a side-by-side manner, either on a formal spreadsheet or a hand-drawn table on a legal pad. One method of beginning the comparison involves colored sticky flags. Use a different color for each factor you want to consider--academics, scholarships, particular programs or facilities of interest--and mark the page of the catalog on which the particular factor is discussed with the appropriate color. Then, when you are ready to undertake the comparison, you can simply focus on each set of blue flags, for instance, to evaluate the strength of the schools' academic programs in your field or fields of interest. Whatever method you use, however, be consistent and strive to compare the schools based on similar criteria. This will help ensure that the comparison is a sound one.