Yes, it’s the summer time, and yes, the school year just ended, but you already have two things to look forward to: 1) Congratulations, you’re a high school senior! That means that you’re going to kick some serious high school butt next year (not in the literal sense-no fighting allowed)! And, 2) This is the time to start thinking about where you’ll be headed to college.
This process can be overwhelming if you let it. If you follow a plan and a timeline, you’ll do really well and may even get the acceptance letter of your dreams next April. This article is intended to help you make a plan. It was written with the help of Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author and founder of adMission Possible.
Make a College List
You’ll need to search colleges that are realistic for acceptance. Meaning, check their GPA and test score requirements. The next top criteria is the degrees and programs they have to offer. Obviously if you dream of being a nurse and a college you’ve been meaning to check out doesn’t have a nursing program, you’ll want to re-think it.
Just as important is how costly it is. Are your top two choices a state vs. a private school? Perhaps the cost of tuition and fees will determine your final decision. Same goes with out-of-state vs. in-state schools. You can expect to pay almost twice as much for an out of state school, unless you can find a way to declare residency after your first year.
Also keep in mind the culture at the school. What are the professors and the administrative staff like? What’s the city or town surrounding the town like? Research these aspects of the school prior to making your final decision.
Let’s break it down. Here’s how to make a good list:
1. Do you want to be close or far from home? If you’d really like to save money the first year, living at home and commuting might be a good option.
2. Do you want to attend a small school or a larger one? Some people feel lost if around a lot of people all the time, others love it.
3. How accessible do you want the administrative staff and your professors to be? If the answer is, “I want to see them at the drop of a dime”, you’re chances of that are better at a smaller school.
Shaevitz has a College Selection Questionnaire that will help you narrow down your options before moving on to the next steps. She also recommends visiting College Board’s “Big Future College Search”. It will generate a bigger list than you might already have, but it will give you more to choose from and more to think about. If this option was available to me when I was a high school senior, a new world of opportunities would have opened up. I’m fortunate that I picked the right school for me, but a lot of people need more specifics, like making these kind of lists.
Once you get your list, you’ll want to research each school for all of the above criteria. Shaevitz recommends books such as The Fiske Guide, The Insider’s Guide, and Colleges that Change Lives. You can also check Unigo and The College Prowler. You probably already know this, but visiting each college’s website you’re considering is highly important as well. You’ll get a feel for the school’s culture and philosophy to see if both reflect yours.
It can be very helpful if your friends and family know you well and can help you narrow down your preliminary list. Share your notes about each school you researched, including what you liked and disliked, your concerns, questions, etc. You never know, some family members might have insight into one or more colleges on your list.
Taking your list to a trusted school counselor can help too. You can be sure that high school counselors have plenty of experience helping students determine the best college for them. Take advantage of their roles; that’s why they are there.
Narrow The List
Shaevitz recommends your list to be narrowed down to about 15-20 by the summer of your senior year. I would recommend narrowing it down even further, perhaps to about 12. As the school year begins in September, you probably want that list narrowed down to about 10. It might be a challenge, but unless you want to spend a lot of money on college applications, the clearer your focus the better on your wallet. If you really can’t narrow it down, don’t. Apply to all of them!
Next, you should visit the schools that are on your list. Go to as many as you can so you really get a feel for the school’s culture, the administration, the campus, etc. That will help solidify your decision.
Finally, don’t forget to check your financial aid options for each school on your list. This is another way to narrow down your list if cost is of high importance. Use the Financial Aid Calculator to help.
Thanks to Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz for her suggestions. If you have any additional tips, please tell us in the space below!