How to Prepare for the College Search

High school students have a lot going on already, but when you add on the big college search, it’s hard for a student not to find life extremely overwhelming.  This is one giant process that requires a lot of guidance, so it is critical that a student really understands what they’re getting into before taking on this life-changing project.  It cannot be treated as something they will coast their way through or just occasionally check on.  The college search should be an extremely organized endeavor that you are keeping up with every day and giving very careful attention to.

Of course, this takes us back to the overwhelming aspect.  How can a high school student get through this successfully without getting completely freaked out?  Well, that is why beginning this process way ahead of time is so important.  Far too many students leave this search until early senior year, which frankly, is nowhere near enough time to make informed decisions on which schools you’d like to attend.  Yes, this is a good time to literally get your applications in, but you should have your choices picked out and researched well before then.

Waiting too long will not only drastically limit your time to complete your applications successfully, it will put unnecessary extra pressure on you to make a decision quickly – too quickly.  Having to choose a school in a rushed manner is one of the worst positions a student can be in.  So why wouldn’t you start looking into this far ahead of time?  This is one of the biggest decisions of a young student’s life, and one of the most exciting; there should be no reason you wouldn’t want to begin looking into this very early on.

One of the most important ways to guarantee an easier time deciding between your future acceptance letters is to make sure you are only applying to schools you know you would love to attend.  There are plenty of things that need to be looked into.  On one hand, you must evaluate all the aspects of the school that appeal to you personally – the town, the programs, the dorm life, the clubs/sports, etc.  On the other hand, it is equally necessary to look into the requirements this school demands of their applicants – GPA’s, ACT/SAT scores, leadership, etc.  Another key reason to look into this search with plenty of time to spare is that you may need some time to improve your credentials.  Perhaps there is a school that you love everything about, but that also requires an ACT score above what you have.  Giving yourself a chance to shoot up that score will benefit you greatly – you’ll be very let-down if you find you have no chance of getting into that school just because you didn’t think about required test scores earlier on in high school.  If you don’t research various colleges’ requirements early on, you won’t know what you’re reaching for as you go through your high school career.

Once you’ve given yourself enough time to know what kinds of scores, grades, and clubs you must incorporate into your life, you must also use this time to determine which schools actually offer the things you want personally.  Visit the campuses, read review books, research the websites, set up meetings with admissions counselors – treat every approach to a school as if you are going to be enrolling in them tomorrow.  Get a hold of every aspect of this school’s culture that matters to you so you don’t waste your time applying to a place that wouldn’t really make you happy.

In the end, you need to apply to schools that you know would be a fit for you and that you would have a solid chance of getting into.  The worst thing you can do is waste your time with places that you are absolutely sure won’t work out in either of those areas.  This isn’t to say that you should unnecessarily limit yourself; don’t be afraid to apply to a university you love that may require a slightly higher GPA than you have.  Remember, most college admissions officers look at applications holistically, so never write off your chances completely if there is just one tiny factor that doesn’t perfectly match up with your qualifications. 

And finally, never apply to a school just because you feel like you should or because your best friend is.  You will be very unhappy later if you end up at a school that you were told you would like, but don’t actually like once you get there.  In the end, this school is for you and you only.  This is why you must look into everything yourself with a very meticulous approach and then decide on your own if you like it.

You really can’t avoid the exhausted feelings that will come out of this search.  Any typical high school student will be inclined to skip over some of these steps and assume they’ll be fine.  But with enough time set aside and enough belief that this will pay off wonderfully later, this search can be completed with all the attention it deserves and leave you ultimately satisfied.