Student Insight: How I Discovered My Dream School

September 29, 2017

You always hear students say “My dream school is…”, but how do they know?

For some students, your dream college might have been passed on to you from your parents. You’ve visited multiple times and heard all the stories and experiences during family dinners. For others, it might have been a summer school experience or college sports that made you fall in love with the school.

For majority of students though, finding your dream school is not so clear cut. There are thousands of schools you can choose from, so how do you know which ones the perfect one for you?

TerrenceZ had this problem. Picking a dream school involved intensive research and a lot of deliberating if the climate and excellent architecture is really worth an additional $10,000 in tuition. He shares with us how he eventually found his dream school: 

1. Picking the right school starts with picking what you want to do.

Despite what you hear about the social life, college is mainly about learning. After all, you’re about to invest tens of thousands of dollars on an institution that should elevate your future, and if you didn’t learn anything, you won’t receive the payout.

Many of you may not have decided your exact major yet, but even a general direction like “something related to engineering” will help your decision process.

For me, I’ve known for years that I wanted to major in engineering. More recently, however, I’ve also discovered that I’m interested in investing and business. So, I decided that my college must also have a strong business program as well.

If you’re going to look at rankings at all, don’t just focus on the college’s overall ranking. Focus on the college’s ranking in your intended major to find the best undergraduate program you can be a part of.

2. Decide what learning environment you thrive in.

If you’re used to a learning environment with small class sizes and more intimate relationships with your classmates and teachers, you might not want to consider big public universities.

Although public research universities have a lot more grants and research opportunities, it may not be worth it if it’s not best suited for your learning style. It can also be overwhelming and unfamiliar to transition from a small setting to a college campus with tens of thousands of students. Maybe you’re looking for a change? Maybe you’re not.

3. Talk to your parents, decide on a college budget, and don’t be afraid to apply.

Discussing your college budget with your family early can help you narrow down the list of schools you apply to. Do this early so you have realistic expectations and don’t get attached to schools you may not be able to attend. Calculate how much you can afford, and how much loans you can take out. Discover financial-aid opportunities, external scholarships and merit-based scholarships you can apply to.

While it’s important to keep costs in mind, don’t eliminate a school if it’s budget is the only reason you’ll cross it off your list. If all other elements fit your criteria, don’t dismiss financial aid and scholarship opportunities that can help you attend if accepted!

4. Consider safety, location, and the “feel” of the campus.

You want to feel safe on campus and in the neighborhood you call home for 4 years. It’s important to check not just the campus’s safety records, but also the safety records of the surrounding zip codes, because you will most likely live/hang out outside of campus often.

If you’re spoiled with a special climate (shoutout to Californians), you may want to be aware of the climate at the colleges you’re interested in. I was almost ready to accept Purdue’s offer, then I found out that it drops to 15° during the winter.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did of going through all the work of writing the supplements and paying the application money, only to find out you don’t want to attend because of weather.


Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.

I hope these tips will help your college journey. Remember, these are only tips. Only you can decide what’s the best fit for you! Decide early, though, and begin your application early! You’ll thank me later. 


Have any further questions for TerenceZ? He is an international student from Shanghai, currently studying computer engineering at USC. Unlock his full USC application file, complete with his personal statement and supplemental essays, to see how he got accepted! Plus, he has more application advice to share. 


About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

Browse Successful Application Files

USC ‘18

Accepted to USC, Illinois, U Iowa, U of Minnesota

Operations analyst in the AWS industry. Graduated early from USC with degrees in business administration and environmental studies.
USC ‘19

Accepted to USC, NYU, UMich, UCSD, Rochester, BC, BU, Miami OH, Loyola U Chicago, Miami, U of Minnesota, Drexel, Illinois

Typical Student from Chicago who has had the best of the American/Hispanic Culture. As well, I applied to 25 schools
USC ‘19

Accepted to USC, BU, Fordham, NYU, UC Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, Florida

Pre-med student at USC, majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Theatre. In the free time I don't have, I compete on USC's Cheer team, and am more than happy to answer any of your questions about the application process!
Christina C
USC ‘19

Accepted to Rice, USC, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State


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