The highlight of my last few years in high school was the college application process. During that time, I had certain expectations for college and what that experience would look like. After years of watching movies set in NYC, I thought that was where I needed to be for college. I always knew NYU was my dream school, but I needed to open up to other options I could apply to as well. I created a narrow list of schools located in NYC, while neglecting to consider schools outside of the city.

As I began the touring process, I noticed I was basing my choices on images I had created in my head. This hindered my ability to find schools that actually clicked with me. My expectations for colleges were sometimes too big or too small, and it greatly affected how I approached the overall experience.

Due to the pandemic, the touring and application process for college has vastly changed. It’s important to make decisions that will help you find a path uniquely tailored to your interests and dreams. Here are some tips and tricks for navigating the college application experience.

Do Your Research

One of the biggest mistakes I made during the application and touring experience was basing decisions based preconceived notions. I knew that I wanted to start off my college experience as an undecided student. However, a majority of the schools on my list didn’t provide that as an option and didn’t have programs I could see myself fitting into. I ended up spending a lot of my time and energy touring schools that didn’t have options for me.


  1. Research student life and activities.
  2. Look into specific programs that are offered.
  3. Request information from the school itself or specific departments and programs.
Managing Expectations

Expectations for college can be very challenging to manage. I remember holding certain expectations for schools, and leaving disappointed and disheartened when they didn’t align with my college fantasy. When going through the touring and application process, there might be a point when you realize a school doesn’t live up to your expectations. That is 100% okay. Not everything in life goes according to plan, and especially in relation to college tours and applications. It’s important to try and manage your expectations in order to allow yourself to see and think clearly.

Be Open Minded

Managing expectations for college and maintaining an open mindset go hand-in-hand with each other. I found that being open-minded helped me to learn more about an institution, even if I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit. Open-mindedness allowed me to ask more questions. It also allowed me to take advantage of the time I had conversing with current students, faculty, and other prospective students. Overall, open-mindedness allowed me to make the most of touring and application experiences.

Tips for Staying Open-Minded
  1. Be social and ask questions. The saying “there are no bad questions” holds true especially during the college search. I learned so much by asking simple questions to presenters, tour leaders, and students I was sitting next to.
  2. Don’t give into speculation. Speculation and preconceived notions narrowly limited my attitudes towards specific programs and schools. A lot can be gained from entering the process with a fresh mind and clean slate.
  3. Lean into discomfort. Try new things, and push yourself to step out of your comfort zone. College searches can be strange and uncomfortable — but the experience overall can help you learn so much about yourself.
To Wrap Things Up

Expectations are inevitable, but learning to manage them and navigate them with care helped me so much during my college search. We’re living in a strange and unprecedented moment, but that doesn’t mean that excitement for college should be lowered or diminished. The college search is what you make of it. So go forward with an open mind and positive attitude — it will help to make an experience tailored uniquely to you.

Zachary is currently a Senior in the Steinhardt school studying Media, Culture, & Communication. He comes from a farming background and grew up working on his family owned apple orchard in southern New York – YEE HAW! Zachary spent his first two years at NYU as an Undecided student in the College of Arts and Science, before discovering his passion for representation within media and content creation. He has a strong interest in pop-culture and has interned at PAPER Magazine, writing for their ‘Stan Stories’ series about the culture of fandoms as well as pieces on numerous pop-culture updates. He has also worked in Marketing for Private Health Care Practice and Social Media for his family’s orchard and distillery businesses.