The College Series : What Do I Need To Look For In A College?

There are thousands of colleges to choose from. It is hard to figure out which ones are worth applying to. What things am I supposed to look for? What should I consider?

Money. How much can you afford to spend on your education? Granted, it is not uncommon to come out of school with loans, and out of all the investments you can make, an investment in your education is one that will always be a smart move, and let's not forget about scholarships and FAFSA, but at the end of the day, you don't want to have to drop out because money was an issue and serious out-of-school debt is nothing to sneeze at. Tuition payment is a big deal here, of course, but other considerations might include things like travel -- if you want to go out of state, can you afford to travel home for the holidays?

Programs. If you want to be an engineer, but you haven't checked to see if your potential colleges have an engineering program-- well that is a serious issue. If you're not sure what you want to be, you still need to make sure your potential colleges have a variety of programs in which you might decide to take part in.

Location. When you pick a college, you are not just going to pick where you get your education-- you are also picking the area that you live in for the next 4 or so years of your life. Maybe you want to live in a city. Maybe you'd prefer to live in a small town. Consider things like climate, crime rates, travel (as mentioned earlier), and the type of life you'd want to live in college. There are people who transfer to different schools because they can't take the heat or humidity or the unending cold or rain. It may seem silly to worry about, but like I said-- you are living here. You don't want to be miserable in college over something as silly as snow.
Credit. How much of your AP credits will go through? Do they offer transfer credit if you choose to take summer classes closer to home? Do they offer credit for internships? What is the structure of their credit system and requirements? At William and Mary, Credits are divided into thirds, with one third being General Education requirements, one third devoted to major related work, and the last electives. Not all schools are like this, and it's good to know what educational requirements you are locking yourself into.

Private schools. These are often overlooked, but for people who feel they are on the lower end of the income spectrum, they can provide a surprising opportunity. Scholarships are often need-based, and need-based depends on the pool of people going to that school. If th
e majority of kids attending a private school are high income, you may, as a member of the middle class or working class, get more scholarship money thrown your way as compared to if you applied to a public school where there is a smaller pool of scholarship, and tons of people attending college who need that money more than you do.

Size. Size of a school has a lot to do with your education. Larger schools can make it easier to find your place because statistically, there will be at least one group you get along with. But it can also make it hard to feel recognized as an individual, and you can get lost in a sea of students. Small schools offer more attention for you, in the class room, as well as socially, but for some that can be smothering.

Feel of the Campus. I recommend always visiting a campus if at all possible. You get out of it things that you can't get in a brochure. How much diversity is there? Is this a very sports-oriented school? Is this a very clothes-oriented school? Is there a huge drinking scene that I will be expected to be a part of? Is this school very Greek-oriented? Are there clear social divisions? How open are these people? Where do they hang out? How do they interact? These are the things you need to know. Also, check out where the money goes. Money shows what a school cares about. If they recently built very nice academic buildings, you can bet that that's what they care about. If the recently spent millions on a huge football stadium, that's what they care about. If they recently built new, healthier fitness and dining facilities, that's what they care about.

Emergency Services. Always make sure there are support systems in place to keep you safe, and to help you in case the worst happens. Services you want to make sure are around you at college include
  • counseling center - Whether you are just stressed out, or something more sinister rears its ugly head-- like an eating disorder or late on-set mental disease. Or maybe you need to help a friend or roommate.
  • health/medical center
  • pharmacy
  • sexual health help - if your school does not offer sexual health help, I'd say that's a big reason not to go or even apply there. I firmly believe that for the health of the students it is imperative that every college offer sexual health services like free STI testing, free condoms, information on contraceptives, and counseling services for people who want it. Even if you choose abstinence, there is nothing wrong with knowing that they people around you who have made different choices stay safe, and that the school has taken step to ensure that.
  • escort services - these are for if you need a ride home. We have two on my campus. These people will get you home safe, whether you are drunk, or just afraid to walk home alone.
  • sexual assault services - 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime by the time they get out of college, and 3% of college men also report sexual assault in their lifetimes. You or your kid needs to go to a college where there are services and counseling in case the worst happens, or almost happens. Make sure they go to a school where they can get the help they need and where students go through an orientation where they are educated on the truth about sexual assault, how it happens, and the perils of victim-shaming and slut-shaming.
  • legal services - sometimes you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whether you're in hot water for an alcohol related offense, a cheating accusation, getting blamed for something your roommate owns or did, or worse, you'll want to have legal services available. Are there legal services available for students at an affordable rate? For some people, this is something that you're not too concerned about, but it's a definite plus knowing there's something to back you up just in case.
  • Police - campus police are important, at least to me, to have around. They deal with issues specifically affecting our campus, and we are their priority. They'll even drive you home safely if the escort services are having a busy night.
Career outlook. Does your school have a career center? How good is it? How quickly out of school do they get jobs? Are those jobs ones that set them on a career path, or have they counted ones like working at the mall? Do they welcome underclassmen? Do they have specialists in fields like Education, or business, or science? Do they run frequent workshops on how to write a resume or network, or interview? Do they have good connections with employers? How good is their alumni network at finding people work? Can they talk to you about things like Grad school? Can they help you figure out how to pick a major? Do professors helpout students with career-related questions? Are they willing to talk to you about research, and give you research opportunities? Knowing about how well your college can put you on track for the future is a huge deal.

Study Abroad. For some people, this is a huge deal-- for others, not so much. Some schools have worked out deals with other colleges-- for example, W&M offers tuition-exchange programs at colleges around the world (meaning, you pay the same tuition to the foreign school that you would to W&M, and you don't have to pay anything extra to W&M for them to hold your spot), others offer joint degrees, which mean you get to spend half your time at one school, the other half at the other school, and get a diploma stamped by both (W&M does this with St. Andrew's in Scotland), other have scholarships specifically for study abroad, and some guarantee studying abroad (Center College in KY does).

Food. You are going to eat it for a while-- you may as well know what you're getting into.

Social Life. Are there things to do that interest you? At schools where there aren't a ton of things to do, typically they tend to turn to alcohol-- which is fine if you want it, but most people prefer to have a third option instead of just being faced with either boredom or getting smashed. Does the school sponsor events for fun at night? Are there a good number of clubs and sports and activities to get involved in?Like I said, You're going to be living here for 4 years, but on top of that, your college friends are likely to be your life-long friends. Depending on the social activities, it can really filter and affect who you meet at school. Are you going to meet people and hang out with them solely through a sweaty party scene, or maybe someone through a charity organization, or a nerf-gunning club, or a church organization? Granted, people don't fit neatly into little categories, but I think you can see what I'm saying in that people spend time on activities they care about, so you want to be able to have enough places to find people who share your common interests. It's nice to have options when it comes to fun.

Well there you have it-- some of the most important things to look at when it comes to picking colleges. 

This is a part of my College Series. If you have any questions regarding college, dorm life, admissions, test strategies, course selection, essays, health, services, how to pick the right college for you, fact from fiction about college, etc. please comment below or email me you questions at I will also answer questions about William and Mary specifically, because that is the school I go to.

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College Series : AP, IB, and College Credit Questions.

AP Classes and IB classes are very important for every high school student planning to continue with their education. I'm going to go over AP questions and talk a little bit about IB, from my own experience. If you have any other questions about college, you're in luck, because I'm doing a series on college-- from picking colleges, handling visits, dealing with admissions, dealing with your roommate, and more! Just drop me a comment on any of my college series posts (including this one!). For the sake of clarification, advanced courses refers to classes that are AP, IB, or dual enrollment.

Is it better to go for a high GPA or AP/IB classes?
It is much more important to take advanced classes than it is to get the perfect GPA. Granted, you want to have both, but not all 4.0s are created equal, and every admissions officer knows that. A kid who has a 4.0 but didn't take any honors or advanced classes looks much less appealing than a kid who has a 3.7 but took many advanced courses and honors courses. In addition, most school districts offer a grade boost for advanced courses to better reflect the level of work of advanced courses compared to regular ones. Advanced courses tell admissions officers lots of great things about a student:
  • This kid takes her/his education seriously.
  • This kid knows the level of work that a college is going to put on them and is handling it.
  • This kid challenges herself/himself.
Even if you don't get credit at the college you end up going to for the advanced course you take, it makes a huge difference as to whether or not you get in to a school. They also cut you more slack for certain courses like advanced math and science courses, which generally are very challenging and typically aren't as easy to get a good grade in compared to an AP English class.

My school doesn't offer very many advanced courses, but I know other schools offer a ton! Does this place me at a huge disadvantage in the admissions process?
Colleges will typically have a way of evening this out, because they know that the courses available at each high school varies widely. Usually they compare you to the rest of your school for this reason. To get in to William and Mary, I took 8 AP courses, and I came from a high school where taking 4 AP courses was sort of a minimum for kids who wanted to go to college (and by that I mean pretty much everyone where I come from). My friend from Kentucky, attended a high school where there were far fewer AP courses available and took 2. We both got in to William and Mary, where students who get in typically graduated high school with a 4.0. So, challenge yourself, try to push yourself, and know that the admissions officers try to look at you in terms of your peers.

How much does AP/IB help in terms of college credits?
This depends from school to school. To find out what you need to score on AP tests and how transfer credits work, check the online course catalogue that is often a PDF on your college's website, or sometimes has its own page in the admissions section of the school site. If you are currently looking at schools, you may want to look that up ahead of time. It may help you with course selection, or give you some idea of what your options are. There will be a listing of AP courses that they accept, the credit or exemption you get, and the score you need to get in order to attain the credit or exemption. I have heard that IB is harder to get credit for in the US. It is much more helpful if you are studying abroad, but at US schools, you need to get higher scores and know more than AP students in order to get the same credits, typically. However, you shouldn't decide not to take IB classes if your school is IB just because it will be harder to get credit. As I mentioned earlier, your course selection is more important than your GPA. Take those advanced courses!

What is the difference between getting credit and getting an exemption?
There are three things that taking a class at a college will get you: a grade, credit, and exemption. When they calculate your GPA, your grades get weighted by credit amount. The number of credits a course is worth is typically determined by the level of difficulty or time commitment. Credits are also called credit hours because they are supposed to be proportional to time commitment. Most classes at William and Mary are 3 credit classes. Something particularly difficult or with a lot of writing might be 4 credits, and things like chorus, violin lessons, acting, and art classes are 1 or 2 credits. In addition, you need to register for a certain number of credits per semester to be considered a full-time (rather than part-time) student, and there are a minimum number of credits you need to complete to graduate. This is where getting college credit from advanced courses comes into play. I graduated high school with enough credits to equate to a whole semester. However, receiving credit for a class will not get you a grade. This means if you got a score on the AP exam high enough to get you college credit in Calculus, but you got a C in your Calculus class, that C will not carry with you to your college transcript or GPA. You simply have the credit, no number attached. When I came to college, I had 15 credits, but no GPA. Exemptions can come without getting college credit. It is one level under getting credit. Some courses, particularly higher level courses, will require pre-requisites. You need to take introductory courses in order to register for higher level classes in some cases, like with math. You can't take Calc II until you've taken Calc I-- or gotten an exemption. Basically it means you know the material, though not necessarily well enough by the school's standards to get college credit-- which has exemption built in as if you'd taken the class without getting graded-- but enough to be able to skip Calc I (or whatever the case may be) and continue on to the next level class that lists Calc I as a prereq.
In summary:
  • Grades - only come with taking a course at college
  • Credit - counts toward your total credit hours, and can help you graduate earlier. In addition it will get you exempted from the equivalent class.
  • Exemption - is one level under credit. It won't get you credit hours, but it will get you out of taking a class you already know the material for so you can take the next one in the line up.

Can I take AP tests if I am not in an AP class?
YES. Many people don't know this, but even if you're at an IB school, even if your school doesn't offer and AP course, and even if you're not enrolled in any related class, you can take an AP test! You have to find your own ride to a testing location (a school that offers the course you're testing in), and you will have to pay for your own test, but you can study on your own, take a test, have the score reported, and get credit based on your AP test score even if you aren't taking that class at your school. Some people do this because their school doesn't offer something they are interested in and are willing to study and get credit for it. Some people do it because they go to an IB school and want to take the AP test along with the IB Test in hopes that they'll score well on the AP exam (as I mentioned, it is often harder to get credit through IB exam than AP exams). You can study on your own by purchasing your own AP Study Guide book (I prefer the Princeton Review AP Study books) and register for the exam through your school's testing coordinator. It takes some doing, but if you're determined to get the credit, you can!

Well, that's our segment today on Advanced Courses.

This is a part of my College Series. If you have any questions regarding college, dorm life, admissions, test strategies, course selection, essays, health, services, how to pick the right college for you, fact from fiction about college, etc. please comment below or email me you questions at I will also answer questions about William and Mary specifically, because that is the school I go to.

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College Series : The Epic College Shopping and Packing List

This is a list of pretty much every basic item you could need to buy and/or pack for college. This is my own personal list that I have compiled. Of course, depending on your preferences, gender, etc. this may vary, as well as school rules. Items marked with a * are items you may either need to get cleared with your school's dorm rules (ex. extension cords are not allowed at some schools because they are fire hazards and you have to use long surge protectors instead) or items you will want to coordinate with your roommate(s) since you don't need multiples (ex. iron). Food items, decorations, and personal affects are not really listed. This is mostly everything you need or will probably need. Also note that it does not include clothes.

Bed and Bath Linens
  • XL Long Twin Sheets (or Full/Standard size)
  • Pillow Cases
  • Quilt
  • Comforter
  • Pillow
  • Bath Towels
  • Hand Towels
  • Wash Cloths
  • Mattress Pad
  • Tide To-Go
  • Laundry Basket/Bag
  • Detergent (see if you need liquid or powder)
  • Fabric Softener
  • Drying Rack*
  • Iron*
  • Ironing Board*
House-keeping Items and Appliances
  • Air sanitizer (Lysol, Oust, Febreze)
  • Broom*
  • Dustpan*
  • Flyswatter
  • swiffer duster*
  • vacuum*
  • Lysol wipes
  • Bug killer (bugs are a common problem in dorms-- ants, roaches, etc. are all things that you may encounter since most dorms are somewhat older, and you may not be sharing the building with the cleanest of people.)
  • Microwave *
  • Fridge *
Bedroom stuff
  • underbed storage
  • calendar
  • alarm clock
  • posters/wall art
  • desk organizers
  • pencil cups
  • desk lamp
  • pictures and frames
  • other storage (shelves, drawers, etc.)
  • tons of Command Hooks (removable)
  • Books
  • Board (white board, cork board etc. for memos)
  • mirror*
  • Chairs (fold up is good)
  • jewelry case
Bathroom Items and medicine
  • tooth brush
  • tooth paste
  • brush
  • comb
  • razor
  • shaving cream
  • soap/body wash
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • shower shoes
  • floss
  • tweezers
  • bandaids
  • acne medicine
  • alcohol swabs or rubbing alcohol
  • q-tips
  • deodorant
  • perfume
  • lipstick
  • makeup
  • &case/bag
  • shower caddy (so you don't leave your stuff in there and no one uses it)
  • lip balm
  • nail clippers
  • hair styling products
  • neosporin
  • moisturizer
  • nyquil/dayquil
  • thermometer
  • feminine products
  • Insurance card
Bike (not necessary, but it's nice depending on the campus. If you want one but it's too pricey, check to see if the police department sells some confiscated bikes that went unclaimed for cheap. They do it at the beginning of the school year to try to make money. At W&M you can get $500 bikes for around $50 or less)
  • Bike
  • Lock
  • helmet
  • insurance and ownership papers
Electronics and Devices
  • cell phone
  • &charger
  • laptop
  • &charger
  • &case
  • &hard drive
  • camera
  • &charger
  • &USB adapter
  • &memory card
  • iPod
  • &charger
  • &USB adapter
  • Surge protector
  • extension cord*
  • Printer*
  • USB hub
  • ethernet cord
  • headphones
  • speakers
  • blank CDs
  • Phone (landline) *
  • reusable water bottle (BPA free)
  • reusable mug
  • plates, flatware, cups (in case you cook, or have take out you want to reheat)
  • reusable shopping bags, purses, etc. good for packing, the gym, shopping, and much more.
School Supplies
  • Black Pens
  • blue pens
  • red pens
  • mechanical pencils
  • pencils
  • erasers
  • pencil case
  • backpack
  • scissors
  • tape
  • glue
  • stapler
  • &staples
  • binder clips
  • envelopes
  • stamps
  • paperclips
  • index cards
  • college ruled paper
  • printer paper
  • planner
  • pencil sharpener
  • ruler
  • notebooks
  • binders
  • folders
  • calculator
  • highlighters
  • hole punch
  • post its
  • graph paper
  • sharpies
  • reinforcements
  • dividers

This is a part of my College Series. If you have any questions regarding college, dorm life, admissions, test strategies, course selection, essays, health, services, how to pick the right college for you, fact from fiction about college, etc. please comment below or email me you questions at
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College Series: College Advice for Future Freshman Part 1

Hello everyone. I’ve been on spring break and I’m now managing a big project for HerCampus. I took a break from blogging last week, but I’m back on track now. Over the month of March, I’m going to do some college talks and William and Mary talks/posts since most kids are getting their acceptance letters this month. If you have any questions, either as a student, a
parent, or a parent who will one day have kids in college, shoot me your questions via email ( or comment. I'll cover the application process, college selection, general essay questions, admissions questions, how to handle visits, or anything else you all throw at me. I'll also cover questions geared specifically towards William and Mary, since it's my own beloved home :)

Anyway, here’s some advice for the incoming freshmen.

Don’t drink for the first two weeks. Technically, as 18 year olds in the US, we shouldn’t be drinking anyway, but it’s college and drinking happens. But wait two weeks after school starts to decide whether you want in on it and how much. Those first two weeks will be full of people around you, freshmen, at their worst. You will see an onslaught of people making mistakes with drinking. I’m not going to lie—there will be nights when you will find vomit in the hall. Nights when dormmates will tell you they had to nurse their drunk roommate through the night just to make sure they didn’t vomit everywhere or choke on their own stomach contents. For people who haven’t had alcohol—or ever had that much temptation to drink with zero parental punishment—you’ll quickly learn the importance of things like pacing yourself, taking care of your friends, and just get a good look at what can happen if you or a friend goes too far. It’s also incredibly important that you stay educated. Learn how to calculate standard drinks (higher alcohol content makes you drunk faster), learn about how to pace yourself, read up on your school’s medical amnesty policy, and always look out for yourself and your buddies if you decide to party.

Don’t friend people on facebook from your school that you haven’t met personally yet. Most schools will have a Your College Class of 2016 or whatever page on facebook and some people will want to friend anyone who posts a question on the page. Don’t friend them. Side-step by saying that you have a policy of not friending people you haven’t met yet and that you can’t wait to meet them on campus. Most people will understand privacy concerns. If you friend them but you have never talked to them but see them on campus, it gets really awkward. Just don’t do it. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.

Delete unflattering pictures of yourself on facebook now. Seriously, you will be meeting a zillion new people, who will also be meeting a zillion people. Facebook will be how they learn about you and stick a face to a name and vice versa. If you have a ton of unflattering pictures of yourself or pictures you are otherwise not very proud of, you finally have a fresh start, so untag, untag, untag. Same with statuses and whatever else you have up there.

Take advantage of the resources on campus. From the medical services to the counseling service to the career center and even the little brochures on time management. There are tons of things on campus designed to help you. Take advantage of them because this is probably the first and last time in your life you’re going to have this much help for serious issues. If you have a problem, even if it’s just getting out of your shell, there are people who can help you. Take advantage of it.

That's it for now-- please send me your questions and I'll tackle them!
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