The college application process can be taxing for even the most prepared student. With all the schools, degree programs, campus amenities, and extracurriculars to consider, the choice can seem overwhelming. But finding the right fit for college is important, even though it’s not always straightforward.
It’s vital to begin the process sooner rather than later. If you procrastinate on researching and applying for colleges, it’s only going to make the experience more stressful. Plus, some universities have early deadlines for applications. You should aim to start your college search process well before your senior year.
Knowing where to start can sometimes be the hardest part. These suggestions can help guide your experience so that you can find a school where you can truly thrive.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Choosing the right college doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. There are plenty of resources you can lean on to make the experience easier. In addition to time-honored sources like the Fiske Guide and Princeton Review, today’s students can investigate myriad web forums to get the inside dope. Of course, your high school guidance counselor exists to assist you with this process, so don’t hesitate to pick their brain.
To get a further leg up, you might consider working with a college admissions consultant to guide you from application to acceptance. College admissions consultants are experts who know the college application process inside and out. A good admissions consultant will do more than just help you choose schools that suit your interests and priorities. They can help you manage stress, refine your essays, and keep track of important deadlines.
It can be particularly valuable to work with a consultant if you’re the first person in your family to attend college. The same can be said if you’re the oldest in your family or an only child. Having someone who knows what colleges are looking for will enable you to put your best foot forward. And a good consultant will lend support during the process so that you can continue to enjoy high school.
2. Identify Your True Priorities
Selecting the right college should be based on more than perusing its course catalog. It’s helpful to identify what your priorities are before you begin the application process. College will provide opportunities for growth personally, academically, and professionally. Don’t choose a college just thinking about one aspect of your life.
Before you begin the application process, you should think about these questions:
- Do you want to live in a certain region of the country?
- Is it important to live near family?
- What hobbies or activities do you want to continue in school?
- How do you learn best?
- Are there clubs, organizations, or groups that you want to be a part of?
- How big do you want your classes to be?
- Do you want to go to school in a classic college town, a big city, or a rural campus environment?
- Is there a specific degree or career that you want to pursue?
- Do you have the budget for the school’s tuition and other expenses?
- Will you need to have a job while you’re in school?
Knowing what is most important to you going into the application process will provide useful direction. If you know you couldn’t make it through the year without seeing your family occasionally, don’t apply to schools across the country. Similarly, you might think twice about applying to a large university if a small class size is important. Taking stock of your priorities and values will help to refine your list of potential schools.
3. Do Your Research
Researching prospective colleges needs to be more comprehensive than just a quick look through their website. It’s important to take your list of priorities into consideration when conducting your college search. You might even have to rank items within your list to help you narrow your search. Once you’ve identified your top criteria, you can start evaluating each institution with these in mind.
For example, be sure that the school offers the required degree program if you’re set on a specific career path. You might even research the department’s professors and review their areas of study. You could also reach out to current students to get their perspectives on the university or a certain field of study. Contact the admissions office or the specific department to get in touch with students who’d be willing to chat with you.
If it’s important to be able to easily visit your family, map out how long it would take to get home. Would you be driving home every visit or would you fly? If you’re flying, look into the closest airport and research the cost of flights.
Keep in mind that you might not have a car in the first year or two of college — in fact, some colleges don’t even allow them. That might mean relying on an airport shuttle service to get to the airport or taking public transit. Be sure to account for all of your travel expenses when you’re mapping out a prospective trip.
The college search and application process might be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be demoralizing. Remember that you don’t have to go through the experience alone. Reach out to family or friends if you need help or feel overwhelmed. The more time and energy you put into the search, the more likely it is you’ll have a positive college experience.