4 Tips for Preparing for the College Search

College is one of the most important investments you will make in your future. The college search process can be both exciting and overwhelming to students, but breaking it down into steps or comparing it to a relatable process you have tackled before can make it seem manageable. I often tell students to think about the process of picking a hairstyle, an outfit, or figuring out what group/team is right for them. There are many options out there but figuring out what is the right fit is exactly what it’s like to select a college. I know it may seem simplistic to compare it to these basic tasks, but it brings it down to a level most can relate to. 

 Here are four main tips that I recommend to assist you with your college search journey. 

Utilize your local resources 

You have resources available to you at your school and in your community. Connect with your school counselor, who often has a good pulse on colleges that might be a good fit. They can be helpful in assisting you with establishing a timeline for applying and making sure you meet the requirements and deadlines. Many states have specific college-bound associations that offer guidance and hold workshops for students about navigating the college search, application process, and financial aid guidelines. Search out local business and community groups to see if they have scholarships you can apply for that might help you with college costs. 

Do your research 

There are many tools to assist you with your search. Use college search engines such as Naviance and College Board to create a profile that will find schools that are a good match. These sites can be a great way for you to start to narrow down the search by entering the criteria that are important to you in a college, like major, location, size, and academic requirements. College websites can give you a window into the campus and a preview of what is offered at the college. Take advantage of opportunities to explore all areas of campus life, including virtual tours.

Connect with your college admissions counselor 

Many colleges have admissions counselors who work specifically with high schools in certain geographic areas. They are good resources because these counselors are familiar with your school’s profile, which means that you have a point person in the admissions office to help you with the admissions process and answer all of your questions. Connecting with admission counselors also gives them a chance to get to know you beyond the application, and this is a time that you can start developing some independence from your parents and show initiative through this process.  

See it for yourself! 

Seeing the colleges you are considering is so important. This past year has created new approaches to how you may view a campus with so many colleges only offering virtual experiences. I believe moving forward you will have more opportunities to see the campuses in person, but there will also be those virtual visits available as well.

Virtual visits can act as introductions to a school. In many ways, they open up a window to visit colleges that you may have never considered before because of their distance. This can allow you to go outside of the original parameters you set for yourself since you can explore these schools online. Virtual visits can also give you a chance to view a college that could be close, but your schedule prohibits you from doing an in-person visit earlier on in your college search. However, I think nothing replaces that in-person visit, because you get that true vibe of the school and will be able to feel if you see yourself attending there. Plymouth State University, for instance, has resumed in-person tours for prospective students so students can go inside our facilities and get a sense of our campus. Contact our Admissions Office and we can help you schedule your visit!  

The college search is different for everyone but utilizing these steps will make the journey more enjoyable and easier to navigate!

Leslie Castonia is associate director of admissions at Plymouth State University. She has been in college admissions for 30 years, 18 of them serving Plymouth State. As a first-generation college student, Leslie thrives on helping students through the college process. When not assisting first-year students, she may be found relaxing at the beach.