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.
- Your Simple Guide to Junior and Senior Year Admission Planning: The college application process is going to fly by faster than you'd think. Here's a timeline to help guide you through your junior and senior years.
- A Comprehensive 2-Year Calendar for High School Juniors and Seniors: Junior and senior year are the big years in your college planning journey. Check out this handy timeline so you know what to do and when to do it.
- A Helpful 2-Year Timeline for Transferring Colleges: Planning to transfer to a four-year college or university? This timeline will help keep you on track.
- Smart College Prep Steps for All 4 Years of High School: The college search isn’t reserved for just juniors and seniors in high school. Get started on the college search as early as freshman year with this advice!
Step 2: Consider your major and academic options
Majors aren’t the scary, career-binding contracts they often appear to be—we promise.
- 4 Expert Tips for Choosing Your Best–Fit College Major: Choosing your college major is huge decision in your college journey. Use these four tips to help lead you to the best-fit major for your future goals.
- What Is an Interdisciplinary Major?: Interdisciplinary majors are a great way to pursue multiple interests in college. Here's some quick expert advice to know about this academic opportunity.
- 3 Quick Tips to Narrow Down All Your Major Options: Choosing a major isn't easy, but the process of elimination can help you narrow down your list of potential majors and discover yourself along the way.
- 4 Interesting Ways to Help You Find Your College Major: Sometimes you need to get a little creative to take the pressure off of picking your major.
- An Essential List of All the Wrong Reasons to Choose a College Major: Are you thinking about committing to a major because you're passionate about it—or are you picking it for the wrong reasons? Find out here.
- How to Choose Your Major and Explore All Your Options: Many colleges boast upwards of 300 majors. Just how are you supposed to decide on one, especially if you're not sure what you want to study? Learn more here!
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.
- 4 Important Foundations of Your College Search: If we’re really going to boil down the college search to the most important factors, these would be at the top.
- The Most Important Factors for Choosing a College: There are many factors to consider as you conduct your search for the right college. These are some of the most important!
- 30 Questions You Need to Ask Before Choosing a College: Are you asking schools the right questions? This big list might surprise you.
- 10 Uncommon Questions to Ask in Your College Search: There's no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to finding your dream school. Here are some important questions you may not think to ask.
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!
- The CollegeXpress Ultimate Guide to the College Search: This guide has everything you need to find the right college(s) for you. Learn when to start your search, how to find your perfect college match, and more!
- The Basics of When and How to Begin Your College Search in High School: You're not alone if you feel lost about where to start the college search process.
- Top Tips to Help Students With Disabilities Find Supportive Colleges: The college search can be daunting, and if you're a student with a disability, there are additional considerations to keep in mind. Here's what to know.
- 5 Easy Ways to Start Your College Search: Jump-start your college search with these painless strategies.
- How to Build the Perfect College List in High School: This article breaks down the process and reminds you that this should be an enjoyable journey!
- CollegeXpress's College Search Tool: Search for schools by major, location, size, and more with our very own search engine.
- CollegeXpress Lists & Rankings: These aren't your average top 10 school lists. Check them out to make your search more fun—we have over 800!
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!
- Campus Visits: The Best Resource to Use in Your College Search: If you’re debating even going on campus visits, read this before you decide it’s not worth it.
- The Best Ways to Make Your College Campus Visits More Fun: Are all those campus visits tiring you out? Here are a few ways to make them a little more entertaining...including a rousing game of Campus Visit Bingo!
- The Worst Campus Visit Mistakes to Avoid: Be sure to avoid doing these things when you head off on a campus tour.
- 10 Things You Should Definitely Do on Every College Visit: If you're putting in the effort to visit colleges before applying, make sure you're taking full advantage of it. Here are 10 things to do on campus tours.
- College Visits Should Be Fun, Not Stressful: Some advice for anyone feeling the stress overtaking the joy of the process.
- Campus Visits: Places to Go and Questions to Ask: Questions, questions, and more questions! But seriously, you should be asking your tour guide as many questions as possible.
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.
- How to Prepare for the ACT, SAT, and Other Tests: This standardized test guide covers the ACT, SAT, AP Tests, and more. It's basically everything you need to know to get ready for your exams!
- Easy Ways to Make Studying for Standardized Tests Fun: It may be hard to believe, but it is possible—learn more here!
- How to Set Good Expectations for Your SAT or ACT Scores: The SAT and ACT certainly aren’t easy, but you can set reasonable goals for yourself to get through them.
- Understanding Standardized Tests and Scores: To know how they’re going to help in your college applications, you really need to understand standardized tests and what your scores mean.
- What Are Test–Optional Colleges All About?: Schools that don't require SAT or ACT scores are changing the admission game in a big way. Here's what you should know about "test-optional" colleges.
- What Is Test–Blind College Admission?: What is a "test-blind" school, and what does it mean for college admission? Watch this video to learn more!
Step 7: Ask for recommendation letters
Ask early. Stick with people who know you well. And don’t forget to thank them!
- Top 5 Questions About Recommendation Letters: You’ve probably been asking yourself these questions, so here are the answers!
- The Top 5 Do's and Don'ts for Letters of Recommendation: Whether you need a recommendation for college, an internship, or a job, you need to request it at the ease of your recommenders. Here are some do's and don'ts!
- Who and How to Ask for College Recommendation Letters: Figuring out who to ask for recommendations is almost as hard as figuring out the right way to ask. Luckily, we’ve got advice for both!
- Best Practices and Advice for Writing College Recommendation Letters: If you're a counselor, here's some advice on writing them for your students.
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.
- College Admission Interviews: Everything You Need to Know: You'll be sure to leave a good impression on your interviewer with this comprehensive advice.
- How Should I Prepare for an Admission Interview?: Follow this top interview advice from someone who’s on the inside of college admission.
- The Hardest Admission Interview Questions: Don’t get tripped up by these difficult but popular admission interview questions.
- How to Ace the College Interview: Think of the interview like a verbal test that you can nail with a bit of preparation.
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.
- Why Your College Application Essay Matters: If you need a little motivation to get started on your essay, read about why it’s so important to do.
- Admission Granted: Examples of Successful College Application Essays, Volume I: If you work better with examples to guide you, here are some great application essays that got the students who wrote them into college!
- 6 of the Worst College Admission Essay Myths You Shouldn't Listen To: There’s a lot of false information out there about the college essay. Make sure you don’t fall for these fictions.
- Top College Essay Tips From Admission Insiders: You want your admission essay to stand out in a good way...and these admission experts know how you can do just that.
- Steering Clear of College Application Essay Mistakes: Here's what you need to do before, during, and after writing your essay!
Step 10: Narrow your college list
Because five to 10 schools are all you need!
- Cut Down Your College List With a College Search Rubric: Making a spreadsheet will make all the ways a college doesn’t meet your needs (or all the ways it surpasses them) totally clear.
- How Do I Know When My College List Is Finally Complete?: How do you know when your college list is complete? Here are some questions to ask yourself, as recommended by college admission experts, to finalize it.
- How to Narrow Down Your College Choices to a Top Handful: Planning and organizing really help put your needs into perspective when you narrow down your college list.
- How to Know When Your College List Is Final: Finalizing a list of colleges to apply to is a lot of pressure! Here's how to make sure you end up with a list you're proud of with schools that suit all your needs.
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!
- How to Motivate Yourself to Start College Applications: The first step to anyone’s college application process is just finding the energy and time to do it. You got this!
- The Top 5 College Application Deadlines You Need to Know About: Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision! There are so many choices for college application deadlines. Here's a breakdown of the top five you should know.
- 11 Steps to Finalizing and Submitting Your College Apps: Take the stress out of finishing up your college applications with these helpful tips on what to do and review before hitting submit!
- Top 10 College Admission Mistakes: There's nothing worse than sending in a college application only to find out later it had errors. Use this advice to nail your applications every time!
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!
- The Best Advice and Resources for Filling Out the FAFSA: A link to another article of links? We know. But the FAFSA is its own beast to tackle, and we have all the best advice here.
- How to Get the Most Financial Aid Possible for Your College Education: Use these tips to maximize your funding opportunities for college!
- Financial Aid Application Mistakes Can Cost You: The financial aid process is complicated. You have to complete forms, meet deadlines, and include important details. Here's how to avoid making mistakes.
- Understanding (and Maximizing) Your College Financial Aid Package: Scholarships, loans, and grants...oh my. Here's how to decipher exactly what's in your financial aid package and how to maximize it to the fullest.
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.
- 5 Steps to Making Your Final College Decision: Like breaking the rest of the college search journey into easy steps, you can do the same to help you make your final choice.
- Making Your Final College Decision: If you really can’t decide, take advice from an admission official at Seton Hall University. She really gets the struggle.
- 5 Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a College: Choosing a college can be a difficult decision. Here are five things to remember when you're choosing what school to commit to.
- How to Compare Your College Financial Aid Award Packages: Colleges vary wildly in what they offer for financial aid packages. Here's how to properly compare the details to ensure you're getting the best deal.
- What If I Picked the Wrong College?! (Here's What Happens...): You’ll be surprised by the answer.
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.