Your First Steps in the Search for the College That’s Right for You

You know it, it’s time to get serious about college. You’re right, it’s a big task and there are lots of variables. You can find the college that’s a great fit for you and enjoy the process (okay a lot of the process, maybe not those pesky tests and some of the essays for the applications).

Where do you start? Here are the first six steps for getting in gear for the long haul and feeling more confident about the process. Just think, a year from now you may already know where you’ll be going!

You need to know…


  • While this seems like a no-brainer, this actually takes a bit of work!
  • What are your dreams? What’s your vision of college? How do you see yourself at college?
  • What questions do you have about the college search and selection process? You will need to create a device for ”collecting” your questions, whether they are general ones about how many colleges to apply to or more specific ones about testing dates (SAT, ACT, etc.).
  • What are your concerns or fears about this process?
  • What types of environments will support you-so you can do your best work and have a great time? What kind of community are you looking for-what’s the right combination of academic focus and socializing? Do you have a preference for location and/or size of campus-urban, suburban, rural, small, medium or large?
  • What realities form the foundation for choosing a college: cost, geographical limits, etc.

Create a system for collecting your questions and answers, whether it’s a file on the computer or a binder.

how to be strategic about the process

  • What month is it and how does that influence how quickly you need to accomplish your tasks?
  • What have you accomplished so far (taking the PSAT, preparing for future SAT and/or ACT testing, identifying colleges of interest from suggestions from family, friends, and guidance counselors)?
  • When are most applications due (and what about early decision applications)?

Develop a timeline for all that needs to be accomplished.

how to be organized

  • What are all the types of information you will need to organize and use regularly? The list includes: information from testing companies, test preparation companies, scholarship opportunities, financial aid forms, catalogues from colleges, information from virtual tours, applications, your notes on college visits and thoughts and recommendations from your social network).

Choose or create a system for handling all the “stuff” you will need to collect and organize.

who has great information to share with you

  • Who is knowledgeable about college and the search and selection process? Family, friends, friend’s older brothers or sisters, peers, family friends, school personnel (guidance counselors, coaches, teachers), admissions personnel at colleges, blogs and websites form a network of great resources.

Use the information that your extended network can provide.

what resources exist

  • Have you gone to any college fairs, spoken with admissions personnel who have visited your school, checked out the colleges/universities online, read any of the traditional and the alternative guides to colleges or the blogs?

Think broadly about the available resources and ”dig deep.”

>that your decision will involve your whole brain

  • While you will gather lots of great information and that will create a foundation for your thinking, you need (to the best of your ability) to experience the college campuses. Visiting more than once, sitting in on a class, eating lunch with a student, staying overnight to get a feel for each environment is really helpful to the decision-making process.

Use both your head and your heart to make your final decision.

Remember, there is more than one “right” college for you.

  • Over the next nine months you will make a careful comparison of schools’ academic strengths, social opportunities, scholarship money, distance from home and the “feel” of the environment.
  • College rankings are very controversial, and while they are trusted by students (and parents) they are dismissed by many educators. College experience cannot be reduced to a single number.

What’s your next step? Becoming a great detective and discovering the schools that are right for you!

Jill Greenbaum, Ed.D. is a coach for juniors and seniors beginning the college search and selection process. Her program, Choosing the College that’s Right for You!, helps students build the foundation they will need to choose the college that’s right for them. Learn more at www.MajorInYou.com/Blog, or call Jill at 1.877.375.7412.

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