Your 4-Year Guide to the College Search Process

Magnifying GlassLooking for colleges can seem like just a senior year activity, but it’s actually helpful to start early and be consistent. Spreading out the search for colleges over all 4 years of high school decreases stress and increases the likelihood of finding schools you really love. So, it’s a good idea develop a general plan for how your process is going to work, and go do it! (And of course, a little preparedness always helps to get the parents off your back, and that’s never a bad thing.)

There are lots of ways to approach looking for colleges, but here is a guide to some helpful strategies for each year of high school to put you in command of your college future:

Freshman Year
– Think about purchasing a college guide (such as the Fiske Guide to Colleges) and flip it open once in a while – it’s a no stress way to introduce yourself to the college landscape.

– Talk to older friends and siblings about where they are going or considering going to school. This will introduce you to different schools, and might even land you some free tidbits of college application wisdom.

– Don’t get too anxious! Getting acclimated to high school and doing well academically are more important than freaking out over which college you’ll go to.

Sophomore Year
– Stay focused on doing well in school, and don’t get nervous if you hear peers talking about college; you still have plenty of time to figure things out.

– Take the PSAT (or ACT Aspire) this year to help you figure out an appropriate range of schools to start looking at.

– Tour a local college, or any school you happen to be passing by.

– Keep flipping open those college books! Start asking yourself some questions about what you want from a school, and start building a basic list of schools that sound good. You can easily use websites like Naviance, Niche or countless others to help refine your search.

Junior Year
– Start to compile a real list! The list doesn’t have to be perfect; it’s okay if it’s really big or really small. Try to get a group of friends together to talk about schools you’re considering – often your friends’ choices can help inspire you to consider new possibilities.

– Be sure to take advantage of the college resources your high school provides. If there are college seminars or information days, don’t be afraid to check them out. If you can’t seem to find anything, talk to your counselors; they’ll be happy to work with you to help you find great colleges and alleviate your stress.

– Tighten up your search criteria – figure out the things you really want in a college (such as size, majors, academic structure, social scene, etc.) and find colleges that have them. Once you find some schools that match your criteria, make the time to go on some tours. Pick some schools you are really interested in and see if your family has time to check them out.

– Take the SAT or ACT to open up opportunities for yourself! Doing well on these tests in junior year will make your senior year much more stress-free.

– Over the summer, start to work on your application and essays. You don’t want to be that person scrambling to send in applications right at the schools’ deadlines. I know it sounds awful to start the Common App during your summer vacation, but trust me when I say that you’ll be glad to not have it hanging over your head as senior year rolls around.

Senior Year
– Congratulations! You’re almost at the finish line! It’s time to finally narrow down that list of schools you made last year. Most students typically apply to anywhere from 1-25 schools, but a healthy number is around 6-12. This may seem like obvious advice, but be sure you only apply to schools you actually want to go to. There is no point in wasting an application fee on a school there’s no chance you’ll attend.

– If you have the time, re-visit the schools you’re applying to. Often, you can get a more in-depth feel for a school when you’re there for the second time. If a college still has that “it” factor even though you’ve already seen it, that’s a very good sign.

– Once you’ve sent in all your applications, take a well-deserved break, and bond with your classmates who just went through the same process. Senior year will be a fun time – it’s important to take in the excitement of your last months in high school without getting caught up in the worries of where you’ll go to college.

Remember that each person goes at his or her own pace, and there is no one right way to approach searching for a college. Keep in mind, the key to finding the school that is right for you is fit. Personal fit, academic fit, and social fit are the three broad criteria you should make sure a college fulfills for you.

Above all, the best way you can complete your college search process is to get excited and get into it. Finding schools can be fun! There is a world of possibilities out there that will reveal themselves to you when you open your mind and dive in.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.