Convinced and terrified to know that you need to somehow find the single perfect college for you from more than 5000 colleges and universities in the United States? No one is alone in this because the truth is there are probably many colleges where students can be happy and successful.

Finding the perfect college will need rejecting the conventional wisdom of what is a good school or a popular school! Choosing the right college takes a little introspection-and a whole lot of research. We have layered the most important parameters for finding the best suited college for you.

Right time to start the college search

High school years: One tip-Students must do their best academic work throughout high school and advantage of meaningful activities. Students can make the most of it by doing these:

  • Take the most challenging high school classes. College admission officers would rather see students take tough classes than have a perfect GPA in intro courses.
  • Getting involved in extracurricular activities students truly care about. Students must stick with them too, because quality is better than quantity.
  • Keeping a simple record of the activities and accomplishments, what you did and when, for college or even scholarship applications.
  • Be aware of the subjects and hobbies that make you happiest. Maybe they have the potential to be a college major or career!
  • Look for part-time jobs, volunteer positions, and internships in areas that interest you.
  • Think about where your college funds are coming from. Sit down with your family to see what they have planned, and start saving the hard-earned cash and looking for scholarships that work for you.

Sophomore year: It is wise to start early. The longer students wait, less time they have to complete a thorough college search, which can impact the quality of their research, lead to missing deadlines, and maybe even postpone their entrance to college.

Here’s what the junior year might look like when it comes to the college search:

Fall semester

  • Doing some preliminary college search prep.
  • Students should take the PSAT; check “yes” for Student Search Service if they want to hear from colleges.
  • Creating a file and spreadsheet to manage the college research, testing, and application information is very important.
  • Students should prepare for their standardized tests like the SATACT, and APs.
  • Attending college fairs, if possible.
  • Students must choose strong courses when registering for senior year classes. They must take IB and AP courses, if available (eligible scores on the related tests might mean college credit—which can save time and money).
  • Asking potential recommendation writers if they’ll write a letter(especially anyone who will be getting a lot of requests, like coaches).
  • Students must register for all applicable standardized tests if they have not done so already, and continue to prepare for them.

Junior year: Fall of senior year is college application GO TIME. That’s when students make their final college list and send in their applications, because most college application deadlines are between early November and January.

Here’s what the senior year might look like when it comes to the college search and application process:

Fall semester

  • Meeting with a high school counselor to share the accomplishments over the summer, discussing college application’s next steps, and transcript review.
  • Requesting recommendations.
  • Making sure to have taken all necessary standardized tests well before the college application deadlines.
  • Narrowing down the colleges to your final list.
  • Downloading and filling out the university applications. Keeping track of all deadlines!
  • Ask college financial aid offices about all financial aid forms you need to complete. Keep track of those deadlines too!
  • Visit any colleges on your list you haven’t seen yet, if you possibly can.
  • Writing (or finishing) the application essays.
  • Sending in college applications as needed by the given deadline.
  • Thank anyone who wrote a recommendation letter.

Senior year

  • Continuing sending in applications with later deadlines or rolling admission policies.
  • Continue searching for scholarships.
  • By April, admission decisions will begin to arrive, so reviewing the college acceptances and comparing the financial aid packages would be priority.
  • Notify the college you choose of your decision to attend and send a deposit by the May 1 deadline.
  • Telling the high school counselor and registrar what college students have selected so they can send the final transcript.

How to start the college search?

Introspection: Sitting down with your computer or a piece of paper and brainstorming is the first step. Students should start with writing their preferences-location, distance from home, size, type of school, majors or other academic programs, social life, extracurricular options, athletic/music/theater opportunities, etc. Students might face some obstacles or hard questions but these are vital for finding the best-fit college.

Attending college fairs: College fairs are often high school students’ first taste of the college admission experience. Even if it is a virtual college fair, there will be lots of representatives to talk or ask informed questions. Students must gather as much insights as possible.

Soliciting colleges: If  “A representative from So and So University will be at Your High School on such and such a day” sounds familiar, students must go to these information sessions. It is a great way to learn about all the options and establish personal connections with people who decide to admit or deny applicants.

NOT missing out on mails: Students will receive a lot of mails from colleges and universities. They must filter them into three piles of yes. maybe, and no. Students can consider visiting some schools in the “yes” pile.

What to look for in the colleges?

Here are the general college search criteria categories:

Academics and majors: Academics are one of the most important parts of the college search.  Students can look for schools that have a good representation of interests, making it easier for students to choose or change their major later on. Students can narrow down their academic interests by thinking about which classes and activities they enjoy the most.

Cost, financial aid, and affordability:
 College students get financial support through a wide range of sources, such as academic scholarships, special ability awards (for musical talents, athletics, leadership), diversity grants (multicultural, ethnic background), or on-campus employment (work-study).

Location and distance from home: In a big city, students will have access to exciting activities, from concerts, theater, and art exhibits to shopping and nightlife. However, if they prefer starry nights to city lights, they might be happier at a more rural school. Looking for the best of both worlds? They can consider a suburban school with easy access to the city.

Campus community and social life: It’s important to consider the type of campus “vibe” students are looking for.  The campus atmosphere will likely be an important part of student’s happiness at school—and that can have a profound impact on the overall college experience. Happy students are more likely to graduate, so students should spend some time thinking about what makes them happy, and look for colleges with opportunities that match.

Athletics and other extracurriculars: College extracurriculars span virtually every interest one can imagine, from academic clubs to cultural groups to theater troupes to intramural sports. Campus clubs can also help students figure out what major is right for them or if they are on the right career track. It will also help students to develop all kinds of useful skills, from teamwork to creative problem solving.  If a student is serious about sports, athletics can also add a whole new dimension to the college search too.

Career services and other support: For many students, college success means tutoring. Others might need counseling for dealing with homesickness or other emotional issues. And most college students need at least some guidance as they conduct their first internship and job searches. Colleges and universities have ample resources to support students throughout their time on campus—and often long after they graduate.

Individual college websites: After a student has a reasonable list of colleges, they should check out the individual websites as we know first impressions are important. This will give a sense of the school’s value, culture, and definition of success.

Social media: A college’s social media posts can provide quick but effective insights into its benefits and culture. So students should follow their potential colleges’ complete social media networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, etc. It’s also common to make friends with other students over social media, which means students will know a few more faces when they arrive on campus as a freshman.

Customized college ranking system: Students should come up with a list of 5–15 colleges that seem like a good fit for them. Students should create their own college rankings to determine which schools best meet their unique criteria, whether it’s majors, extracurricular activities, research opportunities, etc.

Deciding where to apply: While there is no right answer to how many applications to submit, it’s a good idea to apply to ten to twelve colleges with a range of selectivity—your “matches,” “reaches,” and “safeties.”

Please note that college search is about exploring who you are and what you want and then selecting the college that meets all the goals. It is meant to be a thorough yet a fun insightful process. We hope this blog helps you in the process. In case you still need to talk to someone, we will be happy to help.

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