What to Look For When Searching For Colleges

It’s time to sit down, get serious and begin your college search, but where do you start? What are you supposed to look for in a school and how do you even start the potential college list? Well, everything begins with a plan. I always say to every one of my families that your search, and ultimately where you choose to attend, starts and finishes with your list of schools that are a SAFE match, Socially, Academically, Financially and Emotionally. To create this list, your search must touch on all of your senses, needs, wants and desires in a college. Now, let’s get into more detail of what you are supposed to look for at each school and how you should best document your findings.

First, and Foremost, Figure Out Your Financials

Before you begin your search, you should first find out what your financial boundaries are, i.e., the amount your parents are willing to/can put towards your college education. You should calculate your Expected Family Contribution so you know whether you will be eligible for financial aid at some, all or none of your colleges (Go to BigFuture.org).

Things to Consider During Your College Search

Although the list below is quite comprehensive, it does not mean it is all-inclusive for you. You may have other requirements that are not listed here and, by all means, include them on your list. I’m sure the list below will also jog your mind on other items on which you may place importance. Remember: this list is YOUR list, no one else’s. This journey is yours and yours alone. What you are looking for in a college may be completely different from what your best friend is looking for. You need to assess what you want and like about each college during your search. Remember this throughout your process, all the way until May 1 when you make your final decision on where you will attend.

• Academics: Are they super competitive or more relaxed?
• Is there an honors college or program that may be of interest to you?
• What is the mid 50% range of SAT and ACT scores for entrance to this college?
How generous is this school? Do they provide merit aid, and if so, what percentage of students receive it? How generous are they with financial aid, • what % of need do they meet?
• Competitiveness: Where do you fall within their acceptance rates? Do you feel this is a safety, target or reach school for you?
• Is this school test-optional? Do you need to consider if your list of colleges needs to fall into this category?
• Location: Is the school rural, suburban or urban?
• Size: Is the school small, medium or large? Can you walk to classes or do you need to take a shuttle? How small are the class sizes and how large are the largest classes?
• Dorms: Do you like the living arrangements? What are the dorms/living spaces like? Be sure to compare freshman to upperclassmen dorms.
• Do most students stay on campus on the weekends?
• How far is this school from home? Is it a plane ride or car ride away?
• Campus: How did you feel when you toured the campus (either virtually or in-person)? Can you see yourself living there? Are there recreational activities nearby? What types of activities does the school offer?
• Academic Facilities: What were the facilities like? How new are the labs and buildings? Is there a specific niche that draws you?
• Major: Does the school offer the majors that interest you or the specific major you want and does it have a large selection of majors in case you change your mind?
• Sports: What division is it and how many and what kind of sports does the college have? What is the sport spirit like, i.e., do people go to the games?
• Community: What type of community does the school have? Are there a lot of commuters? How many students live on campus full time? What is the social life like? What is the diversity of the student body?
• Clubs: Are there clubs you are interested in joining? Is there one specifically that you are looking to see that they have?
• Volunteering: Are there volunteering opportunities if that interests you?
• Retention Rate: What is the freshman to sophomore retention rate?
• Support: What types of writing and tutoring support does the school offer? Do they only have peer tutors available or do they also offer professional tutors?
• Career Services: What services do they offer and how much assistance do they provide?
• Placement rate after graduation

Organize Your College Search Findings into a Useful Document

Organization will be key if you want to create a useful, robust list of colleges so you can see what schools will and won’t be a good fit for you. If you are a spreadsheet person, create one where it is going to list all of the possibilities of what you may want and need running across the top and then your list of colleges down the left-hand side. If you are not a spreadsheet person, then you can easily create this as a table in a Word document (or Pages if you use a Mac). Either way, this organizational structure is the beginning of breaking your college search down into much smaller pieces to view what you are looking for and make notes and comments for each of the schools you are considering. You may also want to place a priority of what each need/want/desire is for you. I would do four priority buckets, one being the most important and four being the least important.

Looking for help with the college search and selection 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.

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