Researching Colleges in Four Steps

Even as the seniors begin the agonizing wait for their college admissions letters, juniors are starting to think about the college process. Winter and spring breaks and the summer before senior year are great times to visit colleges. However, before you sign up for a whirlwind, five-day, ten-campus tour, it is important to start researching colleges even before you book your plane tickets and plan your itinerary. A few hours spent at home researching colleges can save you and your family lots of time and money–this research can help you decide if a school is worth visiting and what to look for if you do visit.

A good guidebook can put resources at your fingertips.

Get a Good Guidebook: Although a lot of information is readily available online, a good college guidebook, such as the Fiske Guide (which clients can find in their advising account) or the Princeton Review series includes a great deal of the important information on colleges, such as contact information, student population, and admissions statistics, in one easily accessible place. Many guides also offer unbiased opinions on the schools’ top academic departments and majors. These guides make a good starting point for basic research.

Visit the College Website: Many college websites have a great deal of information for prospective students. Besides listing the different options that are available for learning more about the school, such as visits to your area by admissions representatives, the college website will indicate which majors, minors, and special opportunities such as undergraduate research, co-ops, and living learning communities are offered. The website has information to provide a sense of the campus culture–preview the activities and clubs, including sports and performing arts. If you have a specific major in mind, you should look at the department website to see the major requirements and if they are a good match for your interests and aspirations. Be sure to look at the overall college requirements–do they require mastery of a foreign language or expect you to take prescribed courses with little to no flexibility in choosing?

Be prepared by doing plenty of research about the college before the admissions interview.

Stay organized and keep notes to remember important information about each college.

Get an Insider’s Perspective: Let’s face it: many of the student quotes and videos on the official school sites are meant to accentuate the positive and portray the school in the best possible light. While this may be helpful in getting a general idea of what a college offers, these opinions are certainly focused on the positive. Luckily, sites like Unigo and Niche offer an insider’s look at colleges by allowing college students to post pictures, reviews, and videos about their colleges on the website. Also, don’t hesitate to ask friends and relatives who attend (or have attended) the school about their experiences. By hearing a variety of opinions and perspectives on a school, you will get a better sense of the school’s community and if that school might be worth visiting or exploring further.

Take Notes And See If Schools Make the Grade: It can be very overwhelming if you start looking at numerous schools and many of the details and opinions you read might start to blend together. To help you keep your facts straight, take notes as you research the schools and list your reactions, both positive and negative, to the school. After you have finished your research, give each school a grade to see which ones best suits your needs. Remember, if you like a college then add yourself to the “request more information” mailing list, which is typically found on the undergraduate admissions page. This way you will be contacted by colleges when they visit your community or offer interviews, thus providing you with ways to demonstrate interest in the college. Such demonstrated interest factors into the admissions decision at many colleges.

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