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College Admissions: School Specific Research

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Photo credit: iStock

If you are a junior, at this point in time you might have a list of 20–30 colleges that seem interesting based on general criteria like size, location, and available programs. How do you do research to narrow that list?

If you are a senior, you probably have a shorter list of schools you are applying to. Why did those schools make the cut? If you have to write a “Why this college?” essay or answer that question in an interview, are you prepared to give a detailed response?

School-specific research is an essential part of the college admissions process. It is time-consuming (approximately two hours per school), and many students skip this and rely on anecdotal information. Yet school-specific research is the best way to find out if a given school really is a great potential fit for you. The effort you expend per school doing this research will pay huge dividends when it comes to your applications.

I suggest you use a fill-in-the-blank sheet for each school to ensure consistency. When my students fill out this form, I ask them to include lots of links to the information so that they can easily get back to the source when they need it at a later date.

Here is what you should find out:

General Information

  • School name:
  • School home page URL: 
  • City and state: 
  • # of undergrads: 
  • Name and contact info of your admissions rep:
  • Middle 25–75% on SAT or ACT scores:



1. List the core (general ed) requirements at this school:

2. What is the school policy regarding credit for AP, dual-credit, or IB courses you have taken?

3. List the exact names of majors and minors you are considering at this school: 

4. List two courses (preferably with interesting titles) that you would have taken if you had been a student this year. To find them, you will use either the departmental website or the online course catalogue. The classes you pick should be ones that sound very exciting to you.

  • Course title:
  • Why this class sounds appealing:
  • URL where you found this info: 


5. List two professors whose academic interests and research appeal to you. Be sure to read each professor's bio and at least one of his/her published papers. You should easily find a link to the professor's works on the departmental website. The link may take you off the school website to a professional journal.

  • Professor name:
  • College department in which professor works:
  • Area of research/interest:
  • URL of info about the professor:
  • What paper or article you read:
  • URL to above article:
  • Why this research interests you:


6. Check out the feedback on Rate My Professors. What did you discover overall? 


Non-Academic Factors

1. Check out residence life. If you were to attend this college, what residence hall or theme house would you apply to and why?

2. List two clubs you hope to join if you attend this college.

  • Name of club:
  • What they do, if not obvious from the name:
  • URL where you found this info:


3. List one community service or outreach activity you plan to participate in if you attend this college. 

  • Name of service opportunity:
  • What they do:
  • Why this appeals to you:
  • URL where you found this info:


4. List the name of the student newspaper and read one issue:

5. List one school tradition in which you hope to participate. (Examples: painting the rock at Northwestern, betting for charity on which date the pumpkin will fall off the spire at University of Montana, Duck Day at University of Nevada, Reno)

  • Unique school tradition:
  • Describe the tradition:
  • URL where you found this info:


Resources for finding school-specific information: The individual school website will be your best source for information.

Reliable statistical data:

College Navigator

College Data

College Board’s Big Future

Opinion data:

College Confidential

College Prowler


Jodi Walder is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC, which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at [email protected].

Banner Photo Credit: iStock 


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