The college search is one of the first steps in college planning. It requires time, research, and trial and error. Some students have been thinking about certain colleges and universities long before they started the college planning process. Others come into the summer before their senior year having never thought much about where they would like to attend school.
As an independent college counselor, I work with many students as they begin their college planning and their initial college search. I am amazed how some know exactly what they would like in a college experience, where others have difficulty defining what is really important to them in terms of a college or university. It then becomes my job to help them sort out their options.
How do you begin a college search that leads you to schools that are the best fit for you academically, socially, and financially?
1. First think about locations where you might enjoy spending the next four years. Are you interested in a small town in rural New England or are you more of a city person? Is weather really an issue or could you be content in Minnesota in spite of the cold winters? These questions will help you determine which locations you want to consider when you begin your college search.
2. Next think about size. Do you enjoy having professors who enjoy teaching and are more concerned with undergraduate students than they are with research? Do you want to be part of large lecture classes or would you prefer more discussion. Answering these questions will give you an idea of where your college search should go in terms of size.
3. Let’s consider academics. Are you a strong student who enjoys an academic challenge or do you want to look at schools in your college search that will offer you more of a balance between academics and extracurricular activities? If there is a particular area of interest that you feel you want to pursue, you will want schools that offer that major. Again, you will be making determinations that will narrow down the schools in your college search.
4. What about extracurricular activities? Maybe you are a musician and want to participate in the university orchestra or a high school athlete who is interested in playing lacrosse in college. Or perhaps you are talented in speech and debate and want a college with a strong forensics team. Extracurricular activities are an important part of college and should be part of your college search.
5. College costs need to be considered but should not necessarily limit your college search. It is important when you begin a college list to have at least a few schools that you know are financially affordable. However, there is no reason why you cannot consider a few schools that may be too expensive for your family to afford without financial aid. You may never know what kind of scholarships and financial aid may be offered to you if you don’t bother to add the schools to your list and consider applying.