As most college freshmen were, I was at one point a high school senior. This involved everything that we all remember all too clearly: SATs, ACTs, weighted and unweighted GPAs, extracurriculars, innumerable college visits, endless pamphlets, countless websites, “fast fact” after “fast fact,” and everything else that went into figuring out where I was going to end up at college. For quite a while, I had no idea where I would be going the following year, and part of that was a lack of research. I had a great list of schools I might go to. I knew which schools I could likely get into, and which would be more of a reach. But I didn’t know which, if any, I actually wanted to go to. All my friends were talking about their first choice, their second choice, even their third choice schools, and I still hadn’t figured out if I really liked any of mine very much. I just didn’t know enough.
I was very fortunate in terms of acceptances. Of my whole list, only one school rejected me. However, I don’t say this to show off, but because it actually posed a huge problem for me that will be integral to this post: I was paralyzed by choice. My parents kept telling me that they were all good options for me, and my guidance counselor said the same thing. I didn’t want to ask my friends, because I didn’t want them to think I had no idea what was going on (and let’s be honest, what would they know about schools they’d never been to anyway?). I found myself on my own, and this is where my “unconventional research” came into play.
My mom and I scheduled a number of trips to schools, mostly for accepted student days, and even a couple of overnight stays with current students. These trips were absolutely critical for me, because I knew that I was going to have to decide where I spent the next four years of my life based on them, so I took each one very seriously.
We often think of research as searching through databases for the right journal or hunting through the library for that one book, but I would count what I was doing as research too. On each campus, I tried to understand the school as best I could, trying to decide if I could see myself there. My research consisted of talking to students, and not polling them, but normal conversation, getting a feel for what their life was like, imagining myself walking from class to class, looking at student centers and public spaces.
What I found, obviously, was that I liked Emory the best. The students seemed happy, I liked the campus enough that I didn’t think I’d get tired of walking around it, the DUC seemed good, and the library was nice. These are things that I couldn’t have found on any website or in any college guidebook. These are things that can only be determined from firsthand experience. And this is how research has shaped me.