Your junior year in high school is just about half-way over and your thoughts now turn towards selecting senior year courses and the quest to find the right college. Sometimes the hardest part of the college search process is actually the very first step. In a world where you have, literally, thousands of options, how to start your college search?
Here are a few suggestions for how to start your college search:
1. Don’t feel compelled to know the answer to every question you’re asked
Do you want a big school or small school? Urban, suburban or rural? University or liberal arts college? What’s your major? Which extracurricular activities do you want? The list of questions could go on and on.
But, don’t worry about answering them!
Or, at least, not all of them. And certainly not right away. Remember that this is a process, you’re making a number of large decisions, and to jump to any one conclusion without carefully considering all of your options would be foolish. So take your time.
2. Start by getting out your front door
That’s right, just get out…somewhere. Pick a college that’s not too far from your home, even if it’s unlikely that you’d go there, and visit. You’ll learn how to look at colleges and you’ll do it on a “low stakes” visit.
Take a campus tour and attend the campus information session. You’ll begin to get a sense of what it is possible on that campus, and you’ll begin to get a feel for whether or not you may like some of these offerings.
A school that once seemed too big may have exciting and robust offerings, or a school that once seemed too rural may be beautiful and peaceful. But you won’t know until you get there and see it for yourself. Experiencing campuses first hand can often change your perception of college as conceived from your living room.
3. If you know anything about what you want in a college, you can officially begin your college search
If you know that you don’t want to go more than a 5-hour drive from home or that you want to major in Biology, you can start using online tools to help you do a comprehensive college search. Using tools like College Raptor will allow you to input the variables you know you want in a college and get a list of schools that meet those criteria.
Once you have a list, you have a starting place–to begin exploring, examining, comparing, visiting, and even asking questions.
Tip: Do NOT try to answer every question about college choice. Doing so could unnecessarily narrow your list. Selecting a college is often about having good options and about compromising to get the fit that’s best for you. Choose only those criteria about which you feel strongly to input into college search software.
4. Remember that at this stage you are NOT choosing a college
Many students can become overwhelmed with the weight of choosing the right college for them. After all, it’s not a trivial matter–there is a lot at stake. But keep in mind that creating a list of college options is not the final word. You are simply choosing options so that on May 1st (decision day) of your senior year, you can choose from among options that you like.
Don’t let the pressure to choose the “right” college paralyze you from putting together a list of good options.
5. Think beyond grades and test scores
So many college-bound applicants aspire to attend highly-selective colleges, but those colleges accept only a small percentage of those who apply. When you do an online college search, you will often find the average SAT/ACT scores and GPA at each college.
You might fall somewhere near this average and feel really good about your chances, but keep in mind that colleges choose students for more than just their statistics on paper, so when considering highly-selective schools, don’t rely on simply these numbers as an indicator of whether or not you’ll be accepted.
Have a good, honest heart-to-heart with your counselor about what else these schools might want and whether you might be able to bring it to the table.