The college search process can be fun and exciting. It can teach you a lot about yourself and what’s important to you. But for many high-school students, the college search process feels scary and intimidating.
I love helping high-school students discover great college options. I love helping a student to discover a school they never knew existed that turns out to be a potentially great fit for them.
In more than ten years as a college planner, I’ve helped thousands of high-school students and families find their best-fit college options and earn merit aid that makes college more affordable.
Here are 4 keys to making your college search process more productive, less stressful and more fun.
Use your college search process to expand college options and delay making college decisions.
The biggest college search process mistake I see students and families make is waiting too long to start their college search and then rushing to make college decisions. That’s a bad combination, but it happens all the time.
Delay decisions for as long as you can. Most students don’t need to finalize their college choice until late in the spring of their senior year. However, start exploring college options now. When you start your college search process as a freshman, sophomore or early junior year, you build your college knowledge base over time. Students often freeze up and have trouble gaining momentum on their college search process. They think, “I have no idea which college is right for me, and I don’t even know what I want to major in.”
Well, of course not! You haven’t done your homework yet. Take the pressure off. This isn’t about making decisions. It’s about expanding options. Focus less on finding the perfect college and more on finding colleges to which you want to apply. This makes it easier to get started on your college search process and build momentum.
Start your college search process online in just five minutes.
You can start your college search now from wherever you are. Visiting one college website for five minutes is a powerful way to build momentum. Clicking on that first college website takes a dose of courage. Remember, you’re not going to break anything or commit to anything or make a final decision.
Visiting one college website, any college website, is the best place to start because it’s easy and you can do it right now from wherever you are. Type in the name of a college — any college — and spend five minutes looking around. Five minutes is an eternity on the Internet. If you don’t know which college to choose, type in “B-e-m-i-d-j-i-S-t-a-t-e” and check out my alma mater. I’ll give five bucks to the first person who emails or texts me and tells me something about BSU.
By the way, this was the first step to finding college options pre-Covid, and it’s still the first step.
Make sure your college search process includes schools that weren’t already on your short list.
Another common misstep I see in the college search process is that students think they need to come up with a list of schools first and then go research them. This is backwards. It often leads to overlooking college options that could be a great fit for you, simply because you aren’t already familiar with them.
Here’s something I love to hear from the students we work with: “I had no idea that College XYZ even existed, but I’m so glad I found it, because it would be a great college fit for me.”
There are literally thousands of college options in the US alone, which I realize may be daunting. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to look into ALL of them or even MOST of them. The point is, with so many options and since college is an investment of six figures and ffour years of your life, why wouldn’t you expand your college search process beyond what’s already familiar to you? Imagine the fun you can have imagining different possibilities while making your final college decision more complete and well-informed!
There are many ways to find great college options you’ve never heard of. Here are a few:
- Talk to people you know, like older friends, cousins, your parents, aunts, uncles, or their friends. Ask them where they went to school and why, what they liked about it and what they studied. You might find a gold nugget or two that are worth exploring.
- Use Google to search things like, “best colleges for nursing” or “colleges near mountains” or “best colleges for business majors”
- Visit free college resource websites, like College Data and start poking around
- Engage the help of a college planning expert. We specialize in helping students unearth great college options. Schedule a free consult to learn more about our college search process.
Visit colleges early and often during your college search process.
The campus visit is the most powerful tool in your college search, even as the availability of onsite campus visits has decreased. This is where we need to push harder to not let Covid derail our plans.
One of the biggest hurdles families face right now is the relative lack of in-person campus visits. “I really need to see the campus to know if it’s right.” No, you don’t, at least not initially. You can get 83% of what you think you need from the myriad virtual visit options campuses now offer:
- Virtual tours in real-time where you can ask questions.
- Info sessions hosted by current students in your potential major.
- Live chat features staffed by salaried admissions officers, not bots.
- Phone calls and email exchanges with admissions reps, faculty and students.
Virtual college visits are incredibly helpful. Learn how to do them well in this video tutorial which only takes 20 minutes to watch. When you want to learn more and become a campus visit pro like me, download my Campus Visit How-To-Handbook.
Engage the help of a professional college planner.
I hope these four keys to your college search process help you get started and gain momentum, but you don’t have to go it alone. Every year, we help hundreds of high-school students and families navigate an easy, low-stress path to the college options that are best for them. To learn more, schedule a free consult online today.