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How Do I Start Choosing a College?

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,908 Senior Member
Question: Hi Dean! I’m a high school junior, and I met with my guidance counselor already because I am very nervous about applying to colleges next year. She recommended some schools that she said might be good fits for me, but I haven’t heard of any of them except for one. I know that I should go visit them but a couple are pretty far away, and I feel like I should know more before planning an expensive trip. So what are good ways to start checking out colleges and deciding which ones to apply to?


See http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/start-choosing-college/

Replies to: How Do I Start Choosing a College?

  • DustyfeathersDustyfeathers Registered User Posts: 3,009 Senior Member
    Ask your parents about finances first. HS GCs tend to overlook that part of the question, but if you can't afford to attend, there's no reason to look at a school.

    You an run the net price calculators for each school you want. The NPCs are located on the college websites.
  • dfbdfbdfbdfb Registered User Posts: 3,638 Senior Member
    I agree with both of you, @Dustyfeathers and @Sally_Rubenstone. That is, the first big cut (or set of smaller cuts) shouldn't be based on finances—but I'd say that the conversation about finances still needs to occur very, very early in the process (and while or even before the initial cuts are happening), to set in place the fact that once the list gets down to a reasonable number* for it, NPC calculators will be run and that'll be the cause for a decent culling itself. Without that conversation occurring early on, both parents and applicants can too easily fall into being blindsided by financial realities.

    * Which I'd say is between 50 and 75 schools. That seems like a lot, but so many schools use the College Board (if I recall correctly, too hurried to double-check) calculator, which lets you save data and use it for several schools, and most of the others ask for the same information anyway, that you aren't really looking at a lot of work or time, assuming you have a fast internet connection.
  • OttermaOtterma Registered User Posts: 1,379 Senior Member
    Depending on where you live, try to visit a variety of nearby colleges of different sizes even if they aren't schools you plan to apply to. Just getting an idea of how a big campus feels different than a tiny liberal arts campus can be enlightening. It doesn't matter to many kids but for others, they find that the energy of a large campus or the coziness of a small liberal arts school becomes a major decision point (or the best of both worlds that a medium sized school can offer).
  • UndercrackersUndercrackers Registered User Posts: 712 Member
    I know that the tradition is that you do college tours in your junior year of HS so that you know where you want to apply. Families will combine college trips with vacations, for good reason: this can get time consuming and very expensive. We were not really looking forward to the planning and execution of these trips. When could they be scheduled? How far would we have to go? How much would they cost? Would it eat into D's heavy schedule of classes, EC's, testing and the necessity of ending her junior year as strongly as possible? Did D even know what she was looking for in a college? And how many would we have revisit after acceptances? Too many questions we didn't have answers for to justify a scattershot approach to college touring at that time.

    A friend of a friend with 5 kids (so, stretching time and money for "scouting" college trips would have killed them) had a strategy that really spoke to us: visit the colleges each kid was actually accepted to. Why fall in love with a school, only to not accepted or not be able to attend due to money, distance, etc.? When D expressed that, despite all of the gearing up for it, college didn't feel "real" because she hadn't really seen any, we visited 2 local colleges during her fall break senior year - 1 small private, 1 large public. That really helped get her excited and gave her a feel for small vs. large and campus culture. Both of those schools went on her application list, along with 8 others (a mix of public and private, with only 1 out of state). When she had received all of her acceptances by the beginning of April (6, including the two she'd visited, plus 2 wait lists), we eliminated the privates (where merit aid was not enough to make them viable options) and the publics she wasn't interested in and visited her top 3 during spring break of senior year (all in state, so some driving and a couple of stays in hotels). She is now at the top public university and very happy with her choice.

    With the advent of the internet, there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned about a college without leaving your couch: size, cost, programs offered, activities, housing, etc. This tool should be used liberally to explore and narrow down your list. I echo @Otterma : visiting local colleges of different sizes can help you get a feel for what colleges of different student body sizes really means without breaking the bank. You and your family may decide to go the traditional pre-application college tour route, or you may do something different. Like they say, if there was only one way to do it, we'd all be doing it the same way.

  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,266 Senior Member

    Get a Fiske guide or similar and start looking at how your grades and test scores compare to the middle 50% of accepted students. You want your own grades and test scores to be ideally at or above the 50th percentile to have a realistic idea of your chance of being accepted. Its fine to have a couple of reach schools too. Try to narrow down your choices by factors such as size and location, but be open to colleges that aren't exactly what you had in mind. My child initially had no interest in Liberal Arts colleges in the middle of nowhere, but that is similar to where she has ended up. When the supermatch tool is operating again, use that too.

    Don't worry too much about visiting. Colleges know that not all students can visit. Show interest in other ways, such as requesting an interview, meeting reps at college fairs, getting on the mailing list, and communicating with regional reps IF you have questions not easily found on the websites. You will not be doomed if you never visit a college. A good friend's child attends one of the top LACs in the nation. She lives 2 hours away and never visited until she was accepted.

    One big mistake we made early on was to rush off and visit high reach schools with extremely low acceptance rates. That was poor thinking in retrospect, because of course, my student really liked those schools and other colleges paled in comparison. On paper her stats were decent, but in reality, and not understanding how holistic admissions reign supreme at the tippy top colleges, she never should have even looked at those dream schools. I think too many students don't understand that it is very unlikely they have any chance at the most selective colleges (with roughly under 20% acceptance rates.) The overwhelming majority of students should put the bulk their energies in match and safety schools, because that is where they will probably end up.
  • TheGreyKingTheGreyKing Forum Champion Williams College Posts: 1,797 Forum Champion
    Spend some quality time with guides such as Fiske, Princeton Review Best 381, Insider's Guide, America's Best Colleges. Explore the colleges' websites. Read the brochures that will start arriving at your home and in your email. Think about what sounds appealing to you and why. Also, what is important to you that you would miss if the college did not have it?

    Visit at least some to feel out the type of environment that works for you. As noted above, be sure to visit colleges at a range of selectivity levels, so you see you could be happy at a safety school. Never apply to a school you would not be glad to go to! Your safety and match schools should have similar qualities to your reach schools in terms of what appeals to you (or compensatory strengths that also attract you).

    Interview if the Common Data Set indicates that either the interview or demonstrated interest receives consideration.

    As a junior writing in January, you have time to explore this at a not-too-pressured pace. Enjoy the process of selecting a "home" for the next few years and of learning about yourself along the way.

    But do not stress out. In the end, your future depends on you, not your college. Remember that the difference between attending Harvard and Hofstra (for example) won't make or break your future prospects. Your individual drive and determination matter more, and a good student can get a good education anywhere. That said, it can be fun to find a college that especially suits you and will have student peers for you that will challenge and support you along the way.
  • hariandrohariandro Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    First analyze which studies you are having interest and search all resources related to that ..Then choose the degree you want to continue..Finally you ask the students related to that field about their colleges and consult some expert teachers too..
  • Ran the DadRan the Dad Registered User Posts: 17 New Member
    This site is great resource, but it can be overwhelming when you're looking for something.
    We have received several EA offers of admission and really could use some help deciding. Is there some comprehensive self-quiz/resource out there that anyone knows about? I helped my D create an initial list of schools that all had everything that she said was important to her (at the time), so they all "fit the bill". Still waiting to hear from 4 more schools as well. Any direction to a solid article, tool, post, etc. is really appreciated. Thanks!!!
  • confused4lifehelpconfused4lifehelp Registered User Posts: 29 New Member
    What time do you have to submit your admissions deposit by May 1st?
  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 11,796 Forum Champion
    What happened to the Supermatch tool? It says look for it in Early Spring....
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,908 Senior Member
    @confused4lifehelp -You need to submit by midnight on May 1. Usually colleges go by YOUR local time but some expect you to submit by THEIR local time ... if it's different than yours. That information is typically on their Web site or in the acceptance info you received.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,908 Senior Member
    @bopper -There will be a new Search tool but look for it in early SUMMER now.
  • NoSleepNoLifeNoSleepNoLife Registered User Posts: 9 New Member
    If you are accepted off a waitlist for a college, do you have to attend?
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,908 Senior Member
    @NoSleepNoLife - NO, you do not have to attend a college if admitted off of the waitlist. However, some colleges do not want to mess around waiting for waitlisted students to decide if they plan to enroll. So an applicant may get a phone call that says, "We may be able to offer you a spot in the freshman class but you will have 24 hours to accept it" or more like, "If you are offered a spot, do you plan to take it?"

    So if you are on a waitlist, you may feel some pressure to make a decision quickly if you are offered a place, and thus you should try to have your answer ready. Of course, you may also need to know if you will receive any financial aid before you decide. So don't hesitate to ask about that if you get a call ... or any sort of acceptance notification ... before you commit.

    And any student who knows that he or she will attend a waitlist college FOR SURE if admitted should let the college know this. It can make a real difference if the college needs to admit students from the list.
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