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How to Organize Your College Search Like a Pro

Organizing your college search the right way can make or break the process. Student writer Pilar has some great advice on doing it with ease and efficiency.

The college search can be a daunting process for high school students. While it has plenty of high moments and cheery daydreaming about the future, it can quickly become overwhelming, leading students to struggle to maintain structure and a sense of order while making their college lists. The vast quantity of information about each college can surely become a cause of stress, especially if you aren’t properly organizing your data. Though having a list with your top colleges is a great start, adding valuable information in an orderly manner can help you tremendously. Here are some tips on how to organize important information about your top-choice colleges.

Start your digital list

The most successful way to organize all your college information is in a digital document where you can easily access valuable pieces of data. One of the most common and easy-to-use resources are spreadsheets, either through Google Docs or Excel. Spreadsheets are simple to use but incredible when it comes to assembling your college list in an orderly manner. You can add columns depending on what information is most important to you when picking a school to spend your next four years. You’ll be able to easily add information and modify it whenever your interests change. Each college list will vary from one student to the next, but we’ll talk about a couple of important points all students should include later. As an extra tip, don’t forget to back up your document on your computer! Google Drive is a great place to keep your document, and you can even print a copy of your spreadsheet for safe keeping.

Related: How to Build the Perfect College List

Find schools you like

This is the fun and tough part of the process, and basically what everything else will center around. Information you can potentially find for each college is extensive and may feel like an ocean of data and numbers. Don’t worry though! Once you know what you’re looking for in each school, you’ll be able to format your document and tidily add information to your liking. The first step is finding schools you like. To do so, think about what’s important to consider when deciding what schools to apply to. At first, look at the general information a school has to offer. This means aspects like location, class sizes, student-faculty ratio, tuition and fees, campus resources, institution size, available majors, and test score requirements.

Take into consideration that most of the information mentioned can easily be found on each school's website. Use this as an initial source, but also seek out videos, articles, and even people you may find helpful. Don’t forget that if you ever have questions, don’t feel shy to make a call to the school's admission or guidance center. You also want to consider each school’s application requirements early in the process, especially when they’re radically changing due to COVID-19 and the difficulties students face. For instance, many schools have gone test-optional or test-blind, so you may not have to submit your test scores if you don’t want to.

Tailor your list

Next, you want to compare each school according to your liking and reduce your list to what you feel are your top choices. Keep your college list somewhere between 10–15 schools, varying in acceptances rates. This means a couple of safety, target, and reach schools. A good mixture of choices is always a good option. While researching each college, you’ll start to get a clearer view of what you wish to gain from your college experience. This will allow you to shorten or add to your school list. Tailoring and adjusting information and your preferred schools will help you get an idea of what suits you personally.

Related: How to Narrow Down Your College Choices to a Top Handful

Get the details

Once you have a good idea of which schools you find appealing, feel free to go deeper than the information already mentioned. For instance, you may feel strongly about athletic divisions or extracurriculars, mental health resources, overall scholarships, or need-blind financial aid. You can also consider guaranteed housing policies, the residential system, work-study opportunities, and so on. Don’t forget to add these categories to your list! Details are important and can give you insight into each school's values and if they align with your own, helping you find the perfect fit for you. Specific information will also allow you to compare each school and their offerings to narrow down your list to a group of institutions you would feel joyful to receive an acceptance letter from. Keep in mind, your ideal choices or factors to consider will vary from your peers, but this is your list. Don’t feel pressured to pick schools you don’t actually want to attend. This is important because you’ll spend numerous hours on your applications for each school, so you want to make sure you’re truly interested in attending.

Calendars and dates

Lastly, keep a separate document and calendar to add important dates and time frames you don't want to forget. For starters, look at your finished list and find the date their college essay prompts come out and what the application deadline is for each school, including Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision. If you’re early in the process, feel free to include information sessions, campus tours, college fairs, advisor meetings, and so on. Having a visual of all important dates to keep in mind can help you with time management in the long run.

Related: Senior Year College Application Timeline

Hopefully this advice will allow you to stay organized while finding the best colleges suited for you. A little organization now will surely help you in the long run. Good luck!

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About Pilar Zapata Thompson

Pilar Zapata Thompson is a Chilean high school student who's passionate about neuroscience, psychology, and health. She dedicates large portions of her time to sports, hiking, her dog, and volunteering as a tutor. Her love for books and learning is what drives her to hopefully study abroad and major in Neuroscience & Behavior.



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