At some point, most students who have decided on the college route find themselves thinking that there is so much to do that they don’t know where to start.
Well, one good place is the College Board website.
You’ve probably heard of them – The College Board is the same organization that administers the SAT. Our students have been using the site for years to help them research and narrow their college choices. Then, once they’ve come up with a few targets, they go back to the site again to see the expectations their schools have for GPA, or SAT/ACT scores. There is an amazing amount of information gathered in this one place, and you can’t start your research too early. Give yourself time to look around. As time goes by, you start to get a clearer idea of the schools that are match for you and, just as importantly, which schools not to spend time on. The better acquainted you get with your target schools, the more likely you are to find the right one.
To get started, they’ll ask you to create an account. Having an account can come in handy during your search because not only can you save a list of favorites, but you can get information on other college-related things, like financial aid and the SAT (if you decide that you are better suited for the SAT than the ACT).
Now that you’re in, what are the most important qualities you’re looking for in a school? Once you know this, you can start filtering. Do you want to stay close to home? You can use filters to narrow your search to only colleges near you. Do you want be an adventurer and try living some place far away? Think of some states you’ve always wanted to see and start looking there. Do you want a single gender school? You can filter for that. Do you need to keep costs down? You can filter for that too.
One of the best things about the system is that you don’t even have to start by knowing which colleges you want. As you feed in your data, the site will suggest schools to you. So, if you have decided that you are more of a small, intimate college type, only small schools will pop up.
We’ve worked with students who aren’t sure what their major will be, but know that they want to be in a certain field, like science or the humanities. There’s a “Majors and Learning Environment” filter that will deliver only what you’re looking for, and save you a lot of wasted time.
Start by casting a wide net; As a trial run, we applied 12 filters, and still came back with 3,788 schools. If you start early, you’ll have lots of time to pare down your choices without feeling any pressure.
And as you run through the filters, the College Board website has a Q and A feedback system to help sift through your choices. As you ask questions, you can access videos and other sorts of advice.
Next, choose the colleges that look interesting, and take a look through the information. This is one reason to get an early start; You’d don’t want to have to sort through the details in a rush. At first, most of your work will be eliminating schools that definitely aren’t what you’re looking for. This is a good thing. The more you cut down on choices, the more you can focus on what you want, and the clearer your choice will become.
When you find colleges that look like they’re what you’ve been dreaming of, and it looks like you’ll be eligible, save them to your account’s favorites list.
In the end, you’ll focus your research only on your favorites. Don’t be afraid to make this a long list. Our students usually find that what they wanted in their sophomore year was not necessarily what they wanted in their junior year. So, they pare down a few schools, and add a few others.
Then, as senior year approaches, check to be sure you’re on track for your favorites. If you can, try to spend a little time on the campuses you’re looking at. One of our students knew the second she set foot on the grounds and University of Illinois that she wanted to go there. She finished up her college tour, but she found out that her intuition had been right. She’s ecstatically situated among the Illini today. Others found the opposite – a school that seemed like a soulmate in the brochures just didn’t seem like a match when they met in real life.
Finally, you’ll want to narrow your list to around five to seven schools. Include in this final list a “reach” school – the college of your dreams that might be a stretch for your GPA – and a “fallback” school that might be less selective, but would still make you happy.
Ultimately, you want the place that will make you glad you spent a significant amount of your life there. Sure, if you’re serious about being competitive, and want the highest power law or medical school, go for the prestige. But more than one our students have found out the hard way that they chose a place that they wouldn’t want to invest four years in.
One of these decided that she wasn’t willing to settle, and transferred to a school that suited her. She graduated last year, and now thinks that switching was among the best decisions she’s ever made. She wound up getting three years where she really wanted to be.