Top 10 Tips for Choosing the Perfect College

By: Meilan Solly

        By the time you reach junior year, the question you always hear from curious adults and friends alike is “Where do you want to go to college?” Some people have their futures planned out perfectly; others have absolutely no idea what they want to do. Choosing where to go to college can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Just follow the tips on this list, and before you know it, applying to college will be an eagerly anticipated journey. 1.      Learn about yourself.
The first step in deciding where you want to attend college is figuring out what you want from a higher education. Do you already know what you want to major in? Do you like small colleges or large ones? Do you want to study in the city or in a small college town? Make a list of “must haves,” and use this list to narrow down your options.
2.      Talk to family and friends.
Ask your parents and other relatives about their alma maters. By listening to others’ stories, you can determine whether you want a similar experience. Also, ask people which colleges they think would work for you and why.
3.      Have an in-depth discussion with your parents.
Your parents are two of the people who know you best. They can offer plenty of tips and advice. It’s important to involve parents in your college search because they will be your main support in terms of figuring out how to pay for college and more.
4.      Research, research, and more research.
The only way to learn about potential colleges is to research them. Buy college books like Profiles of American Colleges, investigate colleges’ official websites, and contact college admission officers for more information.
5.      Use collegeboard.org.
You may know College Board as the program that controls AP and SAT testing, but did you know it also offers one of the best college resources around? Big Future, which you can access by going to bigfuture.collegeboard.org, is full of helpful tools such as My Plan, which is a customizable plan that will help you know when and why to take the next step in the admissions process, and College Search, a search engine that lets you find colleges using filters such as size, location, extracurricular activities, majors, and more. Aside from these, the College Board website offers information on scholarships, financial aid, writing admissions essays, and so much more. If you only do one thing on this list, make sure it is using collegeboard.org.
6.      Talk to guidance counselors and teachers.
Guidance counselors and the Career Center are there for a reason: to help you figure out what to do with your future. Make an appointment with a counselor, and have questions ready. Be sure to ask your counselor what colleges he/she suggests for you based on your past academic achievements and career hopes. Also ask your teachers, especially ones who know you well. They can give you lots of helpful suggestions because they know your learning style, goals, and more.
7.      Visit several different colleges.
Once you have narrowed down your search, make plans to visit possible colleges. You can only see if the college’s atmosphere works for you if you actually go there. Try to visit when classes are in session in order to get a better feel for what daily life is like. While at college visits, make sure to talk to students, admission officers, financial aid directors, professors, and anyone you think can help.
8.      Find scholarship opportunities.
Going to college is extremely expensive, and unless you still want to be in debt ten years after graduating, it’s important to research scholarships. If you already have an idea of what you want to study, look for scholarships that are specific to your field. Use the Internet (scholarships.com is a great resource), books like The Scholarship Book, and school resources including teachers and the guidance department. Also, make sure to fill out the FAFSA, which will help you find need-based aid, and research if your potential universities offer special scholarships.
9.      Stay organized.
Keep a folder, binder, etc. that is dedicated to college research. Suggestions of what to keep in this include a list of potential colleges, a list of what you want from colleges, and a calendar with important dates such as application deadlines. Also, you know those college brochures that you receive in the mail all the time? Don’t throw all of them out. Just save a few that are from potential colleges, and keep them with your other college materials.
10. Don’t limit yourself.
If you already have a dream college in mind, that’s great. Just remember that there is no guarantee you will get into that school. Make sure to have many options, including some reach schools and some fall-back ones. If you’re still at the point where you have absolutely no idea where to apply, don’t limit your search to colleges in your area or only colleges that offer a specific major. Consider options like studying abroad or going to an all-female or all-male school.