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THE COLLEGE ISSUE

The Wrong Way to Pick a College

By Jennifer Schwartz
October 5, 2008
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LETTING ADULTS BOSS YOU
You know what's best for you. Don't let anyone else - parents, guidance counselors, coaches, recruiters, friends - overrule your gut. "The college process," says Wellesley High School guidance counselor James Ash, "should be student-led and -centered and not dictated by anyone else." Ash recalls hearing of a senior at another school whose parents applied early decision for the student. They "surprised" their child with an acceptance letter on Christmas, with unfortunate results. Just because Dad slipped a maroon UMass onesie on you at 3 months doesn't mean you're destined to go there.

FORGETTING THAT COLLEGES ARE BUSINESSES
Those vibrant marketing books and perfect website photos are a good way to introduce yourself to a school, but they should only be the beginning. The University of Vermont's website features some lovely photos of the campus during prime leaf-peeping season, but - shocking! - no 6-foot snowdrifts being blown around by bone-chilling winds.

EXPECTING THE FILM VERSION
Aspiring to be the next John Belushi in Animal House or Ryan Reynolds in Van Wilder won't work out as well as it did on the big screen. And those TV commercials by Target or Wal-Mart about decorating the dorm room? You'll dream of having that much space, light, and cleanliness. Plus, if you have my luck, you'll get a roommate who doesn't sleep or believe in headphones.

EXPECTING A FAIR SHAKE
Michele Hernandez, the president and founder of Hernandez College Consulting, says the biggest mistake you'll make is assuming the admissions process is fair. "Forty percent of spots at top schools are reserved for special cases," says the former Dartmouth admissions officer. For $40,000, Hernandez will take an eighth-grader and sculpt the student through senior year with reading lists, contacts, and extracurricular pursuits. You can also sign up for a $14,000 four-day application boot camp at the Charles Hotel, where Hernandez and her partner will tear up your essay. A lot of smart kids "can do analytical," she says, "but they do horribly in writing about themselves." Can't afford that? Welcome to the real world.

FOLLOWING HIM/HER
Don't even think about choosing a school because your girlfriend or boyfriend is going there, and you are sooo in love. If it's meant to be, it will be.

Jennifer Schwartz was a recruited athlete who applied early to an Ivy she didn't like, almost signed with a tiny rural college, then attended BU and is living happily ever after. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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