The college search process can often feel overwhelming. You’ve heard of dozens of colleges and universities, so how do you begin to narrow down the list in order to find the one that’s best for you? Here are a few tips to help you in that process.
A great starting point to find out if a college or university interests you is to research on their website. You can find answers to all of your basic questions: How big is the school? Do students live on campus or off campus? If you know what you plan to major in, do they offer that program? Do they offer extracurricular activities that interest you? Is the school in a small town or big city? What are their admissions requirements? If you find answers to these basic questions and the school still seems like a good fit, it’s time to get to know it a little deeper!
Connect with Current Students and Alumni
If you know anyone who currently attends or has attended the school you’re interested in, it’s a great idea to chat with them about their experience. Current students and recent alumni will be the best resource for you to get a feel for what campus life is like. How do students spend their free time? How did they find their community of friends on campus? Don’t be afraid to ask them the harder questions, too: Was there anything you didn’t like about your experience? Current students and alumni will give honest answers to these questions—they want you to find a school that’s a great fit for you! If you don’t know anyone who attends or has attended the school, ask the admissions office to connect you with a student or graduate.
Read Your Emails and Follow Schools on Social Media
Schools will send out all sorts of great info via email: updates of cool projects on campus, information about opportunities to visit, profiles of recent graduates, etc. If a school catches your eye, read the emails they send you! You might find something in there that you didn’t know, and it will help you get to know what types of opportunities will be available to you at that school. Additionally, you should find the schools you’re interested in on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and even Snapchat. You’ll get some up-close and personal glimpses into the life and culture of a campus through social media.
Connect with Your Admissions Counselor
Every college or university that you're interested in has an admissions counselor assigned to your high school. You can find out who your counselor is right on the school’s website. This person’s job is to help you learn about their school, so don’t hesitate to contact them! You can call or email, and often you’ll be able to text them as well. They can help answer questions about academics, student support services, extra curriculars, the application process, and much more! For some schools, this admissions counselor will also be the one reading your application so it’s worth your time to help them get to know you.
Attend a College Fair
Ask your counselor at your high school if there are any college fairs happening in your area. This is a great way to meet face-to-face with representatives from many different colleges. You’ll be able to take your time chatting with admissions professionals, learning a bit about their school, and signing up to receive further information from them in the future.
Meet with College Reps at Your High School
Each year in the fall, colleges send out admissions representatives to high schools all across the country to meet with prospective students. Depending on where you live, you may have dozens of reps visit your school’s counseling office or post-grad center. This is a great opportunity for you to learn firsthand about an institution! The rep will tell you all about their school, and you’ll have a chance to ask questions specific to your interests (certain majors, sports, or clubs, for example). If you’re already on a school’s email list, chances are they will send you a reminder before they visit your school. Pay attention to that, and show up to any that interest you!
A visit to campus is by far the best way for you to learn whether a school will be a good fit for you. Each institution will differ on the setup of their campus visits; you can always call the admissions office if you’re not finding that info online. In general, you’ll attend a presentation about the school and you’ll take a student-led tour. Additional options may include attending a class, attending a music rehearsal, auditioning or interviewing for a scholarship, eating lunch with current students, meeting with coaches, plus more. Many schools will reserve their most specialized visit schedules for high school seniors. If you visited a school earlier in your high school career, it’s a good idea to visit again as a senior! While you’re visiting, be sure to take some time to explore the town or city that the school is located in. This is going to be your home for four years and you want to make sure if feels like a great fit for you.
Overall, your best resource throughout your college search process will be the admissions offices of the schools you’re considering. They can provide you with all sorts of info, connect you with students and alumni (and perhaps even professors), let you know the best times to visit, and help you navigate the application process. The college search process can be stressful, but it also should be full of excitement! You’ve accomplished so much to get to this point, and you’re ready for this next step.