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Choosing a College (Pt. I)

Ethan gives his advice to future class of 2025 and beyond on looking for colleges to apply to.

Ethan gives his advice to future class of 2025 and beyond on looking for colleges to apply to.

Hi there! Welcome to my blog!

How time flies! All of a sudden, the class of 2023 (including myself) is wrapping up its first year in college (I have 8 more days of classes and then finals!), the class of 2024 is starting to get ready to enter their college life, and the future class of 2025 is beginning their college search process! Kinda makes me feel old when saying (typing) it out loud.

Previously, I posted a blog about why I chose Carleton, talking about why I personally chose to apply to and attend Carleton. If you are interested in applying to Carleton, feel free to check that out!

Today, however, I want to share some general advice to upcoming high school seniors and future college applicants on what to keep in mind while looking for a college.

Disclaimer: I am not a “professional” in the area of the college application process. I am just a first-year student at Carleton from China, sharing my thoughts and lessons from my own application process from the perspective of someone who recently completed this whole thing. The advice I want to share is sincere and I think these are important lessons for future applicants. Please just keep in mind that I am a college student, not a professional in this field.

General Advice

I found the college application process to be tough and stressful. This will probably be heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s going to be a hectic few months for you, but take a deep breath, because you got this! I recommend treating college apps like most important assignments you’ve completed as a student: start early, plan ahead, and seek help when you are confused/lost/stressed/overwhelmed!

Seeking Help

It is your own college application process, but that doesn’t mean you are on your own! I wouldn’t be at Carleton, or be who I am now, if it weren’t for all the help and support from my wonderful counselors, teachers, friends, and family. Please do your best to communicate with your high school counselor, because they know best about the whole process and will help you work through it! Plus, they will often be writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf, so it’s not a bad idea to give them good impressions of who you are!


Despite some stress during the college application process, I think it is essential to monitor your mental state. The workload and stress can often lead to unhealthy habits and procrastination, which will only make the process more challenging to handle. If you are like me and are not the most organized person, it might be a good time to become more organized! During my application season, I kept a spreadsheet of all the schools I planned to apply to. I listed out some important facts about each school (let’s be real, schools feel quite similar when we first start looking), and used color coding to keep track of my progress on each application.

Additionally, make sure you are getting enough sleep, doing some exercise, letting go of negative emotions, and calming yourself down. From my own experience, playing soccer with my friends during senior year really helped me to depressurize myself; as I keep myself physically healthy, I could temporarily forget about all the stress. Find your own ways to calm yourself down—be it sports, meditation, listening to music, or whatever. It is not a “waste of time” to reset yourself periodically to get ready for more tasks. As the old Chinese saying goes, “磨刀不误砍柴工”, which literally translates to “sharpening your axe doesn’t slow you down from chopping wood” but shares the same meaning as “a beard well leathered is half shaved” (which is a phrase I just learned just now trying to find good translations).

About Types of Schools

There are A LOT of schools out there to choose from, and there are also lots of ways to categorize them. One can label schools as “big” and “small”, or “close to home” and “far from home”, or maybe commonly as liberal arts colleges (like Carleton), private universities, state universities, community colleges etc. If you are reading this but aren’t so sure about what this all means, don’t worry too much about it. You still have time to talk with your counselors and do your own research to figure out your strategies in the application process.  And because there are countless of schools within each category, where should you start when thinking about where to apply?

First of all, remember that you are only applying to schools for now. Unless you were to choose to apply through the Early Decision (ED) agreement (which Carleton offers, btw, and that’s how I got admitted), you don’t need to decide on where to commit to until much later. It is totally possible for you to like different types of schools. Therefore, it would be a great idea to research many kinds of schools, in case you change your opinion in the next few months (which I think is very possible). I knew I loved Carleton and other liberal arts colleges from the start but that didn’t stop me from applying to many private and state universities. Don’t let your preferences on these newly learned names of types of schools be the limiting factors when you choose your colleges to apply to!

I know, I know, there are SO many schools, so how can you shorten the list down but also stay open to all types of schools? It is indeed tricky, but I think the takeaway is to not shut down your interest in some schools just because they are “too small” or “too big”. Trust me, schools of all sizes have their ways to prevent you from being lonely or lost, and they will do their best to make you feel comfortable. So instead, focus on some important facts about schools that are going to be more decisive in your application process (tune in for more on “the facts” next week!)

Upcoming Pt. II

So… I didn’t originally plan to make this a Part I & II series, but since I have already spent so much time writing but I still have so much more to say, I am sharing the rest in next week’s post. I am planning on writing about what College Facts applicants should pay attention to, my take on college rankings, and how to find your “fit”.

Make sure you tune in next week if you are interested!

Thank you for reading my blog! Please stay inside and stay healthy in the meantime!

Ethan is a first-year international student from Beijing, China, and is exited to embrace the environment and winter in Minnesota. Ethan is a huge soccer fan as he watches and plays it as often as he listens to music, especially a cappella music by Pentatonix and other artists. Although his passions in Environmental Studies and Chemistry flow through his veins, Ethan is thrilled to explore other areas like Music and Computer Science in his time at Carleton. Meet the Other Bloggers!