Steps in the College Search
It is important to remember that you want to choose a college that is right for you! You will be sitting in the college classroom—not your parents and not your best friend. You will want to seek lots of advice along the way, especially from teachers or counselors who know colleges well. But in the end, no one can tell you where you’ll be happy. So start by asking yourself questions about how you feel about school right now, like:
- How do I learn best? In large classes or small groups?
- Do I like being one of the best in a class, or do I need the competition of other equally bright classmates in order to challenge myself?
- Do I learn more quickly when structure is clear and uniform, or does freedom to make choices about how I spend my time for a class fit me better?
- What extracurricular activities have been most important to me? Which will I want to continue in college?
- What have I learned about my academic interests and abilities that will influence what I might study in college?
- Who are my friends? Do I want my relationships in college to be similar or different?
Answers to these questions will help you apply what you have already learned about yourself as you think about college possibilities.
As you begin to investigate colleges and to think about what type of school might be a good “fit,” you should keep in mind that there will not be one perfect choice. There are a number of colleges where you will be able to find happiness and be able to fulfill your intellectual needs. It is imperative for you to spend some time thinking about the following issues so that you and your college counselor will be able to narrow down your list from the more than 2,400 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and hundreds abroad, to 15 or 20 that you will be able to investigate with some vigor:
Do you want to attend a large university or a smaller liberal arts college? How important is class size to you? How important is knowing your teachers? Would you prefer to live in an intimate community where you might know most of your peers, or would you prefer to live in a large community where you might have greater anonymity?
Do you find cities exciting or threatening? Do you think that rural settings feel inviting and majestic or stifling and boring? Would you like to have access to a city without being in one? Do you want a quintessential college campus or one that is more sprawling?
How important is it to you to stay close to home? Would it be exciting for you to spend four years of your life in a part of the country (or world) that is different from where you've been raised and educated? Will it be hard for you to travel?
Type of Study
Do you know already that you would like a career in engineering, medicine, law, business, or art? Do you want a broad education in the liberal arts?
Would you prefer an atmosphere that is deeply academic or one that is more career-oriented? Would you prefer an atmosphere where students are more traditional in dress and ideas or one where students are more progressive? How important is diversity to you? What kinds of diversity are important to you?
What clubs or organizations would you like to begin or continue in college? Would you like to participate in athletics? Would you like to participate in artistic endeavors? Is a Greek system a must?
Are you looking for particular courses (such as Chinese or Communications)? Is there anything that you know you do not want to take in college (such as math or a foreign language)?
How much of a factor is the cost and the availability of financial aid?
How strong is your course load? What is your grade point average? What are your SAT scores?
The more open-minded you are at the onset of your college search, the more possibilities you will have. It is probably not a good idea to say to yourself that you will not go to a large university until you've visited a large university. It's not a good idea to say that you will not go to a college outside the west until you've visited some schools outside the west. The earlier you start your search, the more open-minded you can afford to be. You don't have to answer all of these questions right now. Merely ask yourself which of these considerations are important to you.