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. Devoting a couple of hours to researching colleges will help you evaluate which colleges meet your criteria for the college search and will help you decide which colleges to visit.
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 portal) or the Princeton Review series includes a great deal of 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 and Register for Events: Many college websites have a great deal of information for prospective students. These sites have been enhanced since the advent of Covid-19 because colleges have added more content such as virtual information sessions and tours, and sometimes additional ways to learn about the colleges such as student chats or academic department presentations. Registration is online–these opportunities are easy to access, so take advantage of them. Students can also register for in-person campus visits online, but plan ahead as slots fill.
The college websites also 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? The college YouTube channel may have helpful information about majors, research opportunities, student profiles, and more.
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 overwhelming when you start looking at numerous schools as many details and opinions 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. After you have finished your research, give each school a grade to see which ones best suit 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. Formally registering for an online or campus event will also add you to the college mailing list. This way you will be contacted by colleges when they hold special interest events or offer interviews, thus providing you with ways to demonstrate an interest in the college. Such demonstrated interest factors into the admissions decision at many colleges.