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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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Heaven Johnson

Heaven Johnson

Back to School Scholarship Winner, High School Class of 2023

I’d like to thank everyone on the CollegeXpress team for their generosity. Not only have I been awarded this scholarship, but CollegeXpress makes it easier to apply and gives amazing tips for schools and scholarships. I am extremely grateful as this will help with my schooling and allow me to be able to enter into the field I’ve been dreaming of all my life. 

Maria  Fernanda

Maria Fernanda

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress is always telling you with time to spare when to apply for certain scholarships, what they require, and if you’re eligible or not. They also provide helpful tips for both incoming college students and current college students, such as what to absolutely have in your dorm.

Ana Sophia Garcia-Cubas Assemat

Ana Sophia Garcia-Cubas Assemat

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2020

CollegeXpress has been an instrumental resource for my scholarship search and has given me the opportunity to try my best so I can graduate from college debt-free.



High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

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