What to Consider When Searching for Colleges

You’re beginning to think about college and you ask yourself, where do I start? College search is always the place to begin your college process. Depending on when you begin to think about college – 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade or in your senior year – you may need to work the process in parallel, but make no mistake that giving your college search its due attention is paramount to finding your SAFE match, Socially, Academically, Financially and Emotionally.

The college search is the foundation of your college admissions journey. Even if you do everything else properly, if you don’t do your due diligence with your college search, the remainder of the process is for naught. But what should you look for when doing your research? The detailed checklist below provides a good outline of what you should consider during your college search so you can come up with that list of schools that are your SAFE match.

The College Search Checklist

Although all items below should be considered when going through your college search process, the first set of items should be addressed first.

Taking Stock of Your SAFE Information

Before starting your search, it is important to take stock of YOU – where you are academically, what you can afford financially, and your personality.

1. Get Your Transcript to Date and Study It

Are you taking predominantly honors and AP courses (if they are available)? Are your grades in the 90’s or do they hover more around the 80’s or even into the 70’s? How are your test scores as they relate to the mid 50% of the students entering into any given school? This is key in understanding what your credentials are as they relate to each college’s criteria, in finding out the admissions minimums and requirements for entry.

2. Think About Career Interest and Majors

Know that you DON’T need to know what you want to major in, but understanding your strengths and interests is helpful. If you do have a specific area of interest, be sure that the schools you choose offer majors in that area.

3. Consider Your Finances

Sit down and figure out what your financial boundaries are. What you and your family are willing to/can put towards your college education. This is paramount! Selecting a school that won’t provide an approximate net cost that you can afford/are willing to put forth is a recipe for disaster. It is important for families to discuss these boundaries.

4. Determine If You Will Qualify for Financial Aid

Understand if your family will qualify for financial aid and understand how this relates to the generosity of the colleges you are considering. It is important to consider financial aid into the college search, and this includes whether a school provides merit funds.

5. Consider Your Personality

What kind of “personality” do you want the college you are attending to have? Are you more liberal or conservative? Are you an outdoorsy kind of person or someone who prefers to stay indoors? Are you adventurous? Do you prefer an academically rigorous environment? Are you creative, unconventional, risk taking, more traditional and/or more cosmopolitan? You want to be able to find a college with activities and a student body that fits what you are looking for.

Other Criteria to Look At

Distance from Home – Do you want to be a car ride from home, 4-6 hours, or will taking a plane to and from college be OK with you?
Climate – Do you prefer warmer weather or are you a skier and/or love the outdoors?
Type of area – Do you want to be surrounded by the city and have that be your campus or would you like a sprawling green quad? Do you want to be sure to have a town that is accessible or is being in a more rural area OK with you?
Transportation – Do you want to be near a train or airport for when you will be traveling to and from home?
Size of School/Number of Students – Do you crave being at a school where you are surrounded by 30,000+ students where you are a bus ride from one part of campus to another or is a smaller, more intimate environment better for you?
Class Sizes – Do you want a school where you will get to know your professors for all of your classes or is being in a 700 student lecture hall OK with you? How do you learn best?
Professors vs. Teaching Assistants (TA’s) – Do you want professors to be teaching all of your classes or are you OK with TA’s teaching some of your classes?
Course Availability – How difficult is it to register for the courses you need?
Quality of Professors – Are the professors predominantly doing research or are they there to teach the students?
Academic Support – What kind of academic support will you need and if any, does the college provide such support?
4-Year and 6-Year Graduation Rate
Freshman Retention Rate – Look at the number of freshman that are happy and successful enough to return for their sophomore year
Graduation/Professional School Options
Career Center – What do they for, and with, their students to help them with their resume, find internships and jobs after graduation
Demographics of Student Body
Religious Affiliation – Do you prefer to not attend a school with a religious affiliation or is this something that appeals to you?
Types of Residence Halls for Freshman and Upper-classmen
Percentage of Students that Live on Campus their Freshman Year and Thereafter – This can be indicative of if there is a significant commuter base or that it is a suitcase school where some students go home on the weekends
Dining Halls and Restaurants Accessible On and Off Campus
On-Site Services – Clinic/hospital, pharmacy, grocery store, bank, mental health
Recreation on Campus – Fitness center, pool, track, basketball court, etc.
Types of Student Activities – sports clubs, intramurals, organizations, concerts, football and basketball games
School Spirit – Are you looking for a school that takes their sports very seriously and students flock to the sporting events?
Greek Life/Fraternities and Sororities
Internships and Research Opportunities
Study Abroad Opportunities
School Safety – Consider the surrounding area, what processes the school has in place within the campus to keep their students safe
And ultimately, can you see yourself living there, having this being your home away from home for 4 years

The above list is not even all-inclusive. The college search is no small effort – there is so much to look at and consider. Starting early and being proactive to ensure you consider all aspects is paramount. We cannot stress this enough. Yes, there is plenty to consider but if you take this seriously, look beyond the surface and dig deep within yourself to understand what is best for you as your SAFE matches, your success is much more likely.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.