4 keys to a more productive, less stressful college search process

4 keys to a more productive, less stressful college search process

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.

College Search Process Get StartedIn 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.

College Search Process OnlineStart 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.

College Search Process Stress FreeMake 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.

College Search Process College Planning ExpertsVisit 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.

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

When it comes to researching colleges online, a word of caution. Much of what you find when you start typing words into Google is going to be junk, which isn’t exactly news to you. Instead of Googling “best colleges for future doctors” or “occupational therapy majors,” start with the best resources for information on colleges. These are the tools I use as a professional college planner for my first-step, basic research. Some are better than others for specific search functions, so plug in some criteria and test them out. Use the tools that you like best.

College Search Better College Research6 Great College Information Websites

  1. http://www.petersons.com
  2. https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  3. http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  4. http://nces.ed.gov
  5. http://www.collegedata.com
  6. http://www.ucan-network.org

Whenever I turn to a website such as these, I always take the results with a grain of salt and use them only as a starting point. If you find that College X has biochemical engineering, go directly to their website and do more digging to confirm the initial results, and then make contact with someone at the school who can tell you more and answer some questions.

Get Better College Information By Going Beyond Online Research

After you’ve done your research online, including spending significant amounts of time on the college websites for the schools that interest you most, you need to make contact with the schools that interest you. Yes, this means picking up that 50-pound phone and calling someone you don’t know who is probably older than 30 and asking good questions. This is the first step in an ongoing dialogue between you, the prospective student and family, and the college.

Better College Search PhoneBefore you pick up the phone or fire off an email, consider these guidelines for effective college search dialogue.

  1. Find the right person to ask.
    If you have questions about the college in general, ask admissions. If your questions are specifically about majors or programs, find a professor or administrative professional within the department, such as program coordinators. When applying to grad programs in the early 1990′s (read: largely pre-internet) I found myself communicating much more frequently and with greater success with administrative assistants than professors. They were easy to reach because they sit next to a phone, and they knew all the details about how to apply, deadlines, requirements, etc.
  2. Don’t ask for answers that are readily available on the website.
    If what you’re looking for doesn’t jump out at you, ask another family member to search for it, or use the search box that is usually in the upper right-hand corner of each page. It’s a sign of laziness to ask, “How many students do you have at your college?” It also sends the message that you can’t find answers on your own. If you legitimately can’t find basic data, then by all means ask.
  3. Keep your queries brief and professional.
    Whether you’re 17 or 47, a well-written email with a succinct introductory sentence and closing statement works best. A variation on the email template here always works well.
    Hello [salutation if available]
    My name is _____ and I’m a sophomore/junior at [high school] in [town and state]. I’m very interested in [name of college] and specifically in your [major or department]. I have three questions I’d like to ask:

    1. How many of the students in your [academic program] enter the workforce immediately vs. going on to graduate school?
    2. What sets [college]’s [major] apart?
    3. What new classes or facilities could I expect to see if I enroll?

Thank you for your time and attention to these questions. Sincerely,

You may not get an immediate response, but you will get a response. If you don’t try someone else, or call to see if that person is traveling or on leave from the university.

4. Treat this as the first step in a larger conversation.
My rule of thumb is to never ask more than three questions in a single email. Don’t deluge the person with so many questions that she can’t respond in a timely manner. When you receive a response, it’s likely to include a “please let me know if you have more questions”, and while you don’t want to take advantage of that person’s time, you should take her at her word. Thank her for her time and send a follow-up question if you have one.

College Search Better College Research 2Between diligent online and offline research, you’ll be well on your way to identifying some colleges that could be great fits for you. For help defining the University of You and exploring great college options based on your unique needs, goals and passions, email me about our College Search services or schedule a free consult here. This is my life and my passion to help students find their best college fit!

Visit Colleges in Your Bathrobe

Visit Colleges in Your Bathrobe

What do dogs in their pajamas have to do with college search? Not much probably. But we could all use a little levity, and we’re pretty sure you’d rather see dogs in their pajamas as opposed to seeing US in pajamas. So enjoy these cute pictures, and check out these tips for continuing your college search virtually with the free time you have on your hands right now.

In light of what’s going on in our world, we wanted to share ways to maintain and even ramp up your college search. While college campuses around the country are closed, college-bound high school students and parents have more available time right now. Just because campuses are closed doesn’t mean your college search has to be put on hold.

We recently recorded a video to help you Visit Colleges in Your Bathrobe. Check it out.

Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors! We have ideas and resources to help you maintain momentum and make great use of your time at home right now. Stay tuned for more online resources coming daily in the coming days and weeks!

Ways to Connect with Colleges and Universities From Home

  1. Check out their virtual tour often found on the Office of Admissions page of the school’s website.
  2. Reach out and subscribe to receive more information about each of the colleges and universities you are interested in online.
  3. Research your major to learn more about the opportunities at each school on each schools official websites.
  4. Contact an admissions counselor with questions about enrolling. Many of these folks are working remotely right now, and would love to take your call or respond to your email!
  5. Get first-hand accounts from local college students that are now home. Ask them questions about their experiences at their college and universities.

Connect With College Campus Personnel

This may not be possible for all college campuses, but MANY college campuses are still staffed remotely. Colleges are working to find remote ways to keep operating and being available for prospective students. They want to keep hearing from you! This means that you CAN STILL REACH OUT to your admissions rep via email or phone to ask questions. To find and connect with your admissions rep, look for the Office of Admissions page of your prospective school’s website and zero in on “find an admissions rep in my area” or “find my area admissions rep”. Colleges and universities have designated admissions reps based on where you’re located.

Preparing for a Conversation with Your Admissions Rep

BEFORE you get on the phone or write an email to your admissions rep, check out the school’s website thoroughly. Avoid asking questions you could easily find yourself on the website. If you’re calling them on the phone, jot some notes to work from during your call and be ready with a pen and paper to take notes about helpful tips they provide. If you’re writing an email, be sure to check your spelling and grammar. Email language should be more polished and crafted than texting.

Start by introducing yourself. This sounds like this: “Hello, my name’s Justin Jones. I’m a sophomore at Northwest High School in Coolsville, Wisconsin. I’m interested in pursuing a major in business beginning fall of 2022. I’m interested in what State University has to offer for business majors interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship.

Let them know you’ve done some homework. This sounds like this: “I’ve spent some time on your website, and I’ve talked to a couple of my friends who are currently students there. I noticed that you offer a wide range of majors and programs in my field of study. I’m specifically interested in your focus in international entrepreneurship.”

Here are good questions to ask your admissions rep via email or phone:

  1. What I should expect as a first-year student studying business with a focus on entrepreneurship at State University?
  2. What makes State University’s program unique? When students choose State University over other options, what are their top reasons for doing so?
  3. Could you share your most common overlap schools for students pursuing a major like the one I’m interested in? (Overlap schools are other schools that students commonly consider in addition to the one you’re in contact with. Think of “overlaps schools” as
  4. What I can be doing now as a high-school student to fully prepare me for succeeding as a State University student in my chosen major?
  5. Do you offer career camps or other programs for high school students during the summer or school year that would be helpful for a student with my interests and goals?

Virtual College Tours Online

Several schools including University of Iowa, Vanderbilt University, and Minnesota State Mankato are offering online information sessions and virtual tours at set times and dates that you sign up for remotely. No doubt this will become standard practice over the next several days and weeks.

The following schools have online virtual tours. This is just a starting point, as most schools have video campus tours available on YouTube, as well.

  • University of Iowa online information sessions including a virtual tour
  • Iowa State
  • Nebraska
  • Creighton
  • Marquette University
  • University Chicago Loyola
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Bemidgi State University
  • Vanderbilt (and online information sessions)
  • Valparaiso University
  • Indiana University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of St Thomas
  • Minnesota State University Mankato (and sign up for virtual tour on a specific date)
  • University of Wisconsin Whitewater
  • St Norbert’s College
  • Auburn University
  • University of Kentucky

We hope you’ve enjoyed this pajama-wearing-dog-guided tour of how to visit colleges in your bathrobe.

Get Guidance on Maintaining Momentum in the Midst of Madness

Stay tuned for more free college planning resources coming soon to help you maintain momentum and get guidance on your college planning process while in the midst of our current situation. For answers to your specific questions, schedule a Free Consult (which can take place via Zoom video conference from wherever you are). Or email Tom or email Hilary. Prospective student athletes seeking guidance on keeping the fire lit under your recruiting process, email Stephanie for answers and guidance.