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How to Navigate the College Search, Step-by-Step

The college search journey can be intimidating, but when you break it down into easy steps, you'll find the process more enjoyable and rewarding.

We don’t mean to toot our own horn, but—beep beep—we have everything you need to find the perfect college. No, really. It’s like having your own free, fancy private college admission advisor. Not only can you search for colleges on CollegeXpress, but you can find a ton of helpful advice on finding the right school for you, knowing the right time to start your search, and much more. If you're looking for a step-by-step guide to the college search, this is it! The first steps are to find colleges that really and truly fit you—academic fit, social fit, career prep fit...all the fits. Make your list using criteria based on your needs, desires, and goals. When a school is the right fit for you, the financial aid tends to fall into place. And in between, you'll have essays to write, standardized tests to take, campuses to visit, and more fun stuff to do. There may be a lot of steps to take, but everything will be worth it when you're attending a school that fits you perfectly.  So, ready to start your college search?! We've collected our best articles that will help make every step of the way a whole lot easier. Let’s do this! 

Step 1: Know your college search timeline

Before you even fire up a college search engine, it helps to know what’s ahead of you, including what you need to do and when.

Step 2: Consider your major and academic options

Majors aren’t the scary, career-binding contracts they often appear to be—we promise.

Step 3: Make a list of what you want in a college

Why do you want to go to college? What do you hope to find when you get there? What do you need to succeed in college and after you graduate? You need to ask yourself these questions (and more) so you know what to look for in a school.

Step 4: Search for schools that fit your criteria to make your college list

Now that you have a good idea of what you want from your future college, you can actually start looking for it!

Step 5: Go on campus visits

This is a surprisingly crucial part of your college search. You really won’t know how you feel about a school until you step foot on campus! 

Step 6: Take standardized tests (or don’t!)

Prepare for the tests you need to take and/or get to know what it means to apply to a test-optional school.

Step 7: Ask for recommendation letters

Ask early. Stick with people who know you well. And don’t forget to thank them!

Step 8: Participate in admission interviews

They may or may not be required, but either way, admission interviews are a valuable piece of the college admission puzzle.

Step 9: Start your application essay

Who knew writing about the subject you know best (yourself) could be so tricky? That’s why it helps to start preparing for your application essays a little early.

Step 10: Narrow your college list

Because five to 10 schools are all you need! 

Step 11: Fill out and send your college applications—on time

Name, address, date of birth: this is the easy part. Just make sure you meet all your deadlines!

Step 12: Begin the financial aid process

This is the part that often provides students the most stress, but that’s why we have all the advice for you!

Step 13: Make your final college decision!

Even if you’re accepted by your #1 school, it’s a good idea to explore your options, especially by comparing your financial aid award letters. 

Of course, the college process doesn’t stop here; it’s just the beginning! The scholarship hunt is the next big step, so get started on CollegeXpress using our Scholarship Search tool.

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Fabiola Rodriguez

Fabiola Rodriguez

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me on my journey to get to the school of my first choice by showing me all the options I have. I didn’t know of the College of Southern Nevada until I went on this website, and it helped me look for other choices and compare what colleges would be right for me.

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.

Kyla McClain

Kyla McClain

High School Class of 2024

I found CollegeXpress when you partnered with Bold.org for a scholarship. I found your website, put my information in, and got connected. I only wanted to stay in North Carolina [for college] and not move far from home, but you all opened a door up for me. I started researching colleges you suggested for me. On your social media platforms, you also give really good test-taking tips that I used and suggested others to do the same. It helped me a lot on my exams, so thank you.

Elizabeth Stafford

Elizabeth Stafford

High School Class of 2021

As a UK student moving to California due to my dad's job in the military, when I first signed up for CollegeXpress a few months ago, the college process ahead seemed daunting and incredibly stressful. That all changed after I started to explore what this website had to offer. Not only was I helped by the vast array of resources available to me, but through being a CollegeXpress member, there have been so many more benefits. There have been emails with college tips—all of which I found incredibly helpful—as well as invitations to events and notifications of scholarships that'll make college possible for me. Overall, I'm very grateful to CollegeXpress for all of these things and more. Not only have they helped me grow my understanding of the college process, but they've also helped me to grow as a person, giving me new skills that I can take with me through life.

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