If you attended my high school, there were two types of colleges you researched: state schools or historically black colleges.
Apart from the highest performing students who ended up at schools like Stanford University or Wellesley College, my high school was, unashamedly, a "feeder school" to colleges known more for sports or bands than for academics.
When I visited my state's flagship university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in the spring of my junior year with my mom and three close friends, I liked the campus a lot. There were lots of resources, lots of people, and a lot of school spirit.
But it seemed too big for me and too sports-centered, a problem for someone who had never had a keen interest in athletics. When I confided in a counselor at my high school about this, she told me to seek out small colleges and focus on finding a better fit rather than where my friends were going.
There was just one problem: I had never heard of many of these small, liberal arts colleges people were telling me about. Where was Middlebury? Is Colgate somehow affiliated with the toothpaste? And what is a Pomona?
Because few students from my high school applied, let alone attended colleges like the ones mentioned, the counselors couldn't really help me determine which would fit me. I had to do that on my own.
During the day, I defended my decision to apply to colleges I had never heard of to my friends and family, and at night I tried to figure out just what "fit" was.
By the end of the process, I applied to seven schools, was admitted to five and settled on one: Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Time for some shameless advertising as I explain just why I picked Denison. I figured that I didn't want to travel too far from home, but preferred to be out of state, so I Googled "good liberal arts colleges in the Midwest." I ended up using a list of colleges from author Loren Pope's "Colleges that Change Lives."
Denison was on Mr. Pope's list. When I visited, I saw what was so great about this tiny school on the hill. I sat in on four classes, all of which had fewer than 20 students. The food was not horrible. The people were friendly. And the professors were excellent.
When I returned home from my visit, I sent in the enrollment deposit. I made my decision.
"You're going where? To Denton University?"
I rolled my eyes. "Denison University."
No one at my school had heard of it before.
On College Day for the seniors at my school, we all had to wear T-shirts from the colleges we were attending in the fall. Surrounded in a sea of Big Ten prospects, I spent the day fielding questions about Denison's social life, athletic teams and reputation.
"Wait. There are only 2,000 people at that school?"
"Why would you want to go to a D-III school? You're not going to have any school spirit."
"If no one has heard of Denison, how are you going to be competitive for internships? Graduate school?"
Even though I couldn't answer these questions until a year later, I was -- and am -- pleased with the results. Yes, there are only 2,000 students at Denison, which makes for an intimate, personal community.
And it's simply not true that D-III schools don't have school spirit. At Denison, we're on the edge of our seats for swimming against Kenyon and lacrosse against Ohio Wesleyan.
Finally, a Denison education doesn't make me or my peers any less competitive for post-graduate opportunities. Denison is a hot spot for Teach for America and the Peace Corps, and the school recently was spotlighted for its high matriculation of students to medical school.
If your college search is not extensive, you could be missing out on gems like Denison.
It's beneficial to research schools that your high school has a history of sending graduates to because they are popular for a reason, but you have to determine whether or not those reasons are good for you.
Ultimately, going to a school that few of my friends had heard of was good for me. It gave me the opportunity to meet new people, be in a new environment and have a college experience that has been very different from that of my high school counterparts.
Curtis Edmonds, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a junior majoring in communication and political science at Denison University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.