Apr   2016



How to Survive the Search for the Right School

High School Student
Last Updated: Jul 28, 2020

What do Campbell University, Manhattan College, and the University of Georgia have in common? They all have their names printed on mail sitting in a pile in my room, along with several other schools.

If you are anything like me, you have probably requested information from every school you could think of, but now that the mail is here you just spend countless hours staring at the stack, hoping the right decision will magically appear in front of you and put you out of your misery. Choosing which school(s) to apply to and/or attend is an overwhelming task, so I put together a list of tips that should make the process a little less daunting.

Decide your priorities

Make a list of characteristics you are looking for in a college. It doesn’t have to be long, just a starting point. It will get longer as you realize what is important to you. Some examples include majors, location, size, price, etc.

Related: The Top 7 Things to Consider When Choosing a College

Become friends with the Net Price Calculator

This calculator has quickly become my favorite tool for my college search. Every school is different, but the calculators are similar for each. It may be helpful to have your parents around, as you will need some financial information to receive the best estimate. Most will tell you what you might receive as financial aid and any possible scholarship money you are eligible for. I love this tool because it helps me know which schools it is financially possible for me to attend.

Use the virtual tour feature

It may be difficult to talk your parents into taking you to go see a school in New York if you live in Arizona, so a virtual tour is a nice back-up plan. Depending on the school, the “virtual tour” may be an interactive map or a slideshow of attractive buildings on campus. If a school does not have a virtual tour, it is nice to look at a map and maybe pictures of the dorms. The point is to get a feel for the layout of the school and to see if you will be comfortable in the space you’ll be living in for the next few years.

Create a pros and cons list

This is cliché advice, but I promise it works. Create a chart for every school you are considering, then, using your list of priorities, work through the details to decide which ones work best for you. But be warned: the results may be surprising!

Fill out the Common Application

Chances are, at least one of the schools on your list uses the Common Application. If you don’t know what this is, it is basically one application that a lot of schools use for admissions. It is nice to go ahead and fill this out if you are waiting for other schools to open their admissions process.

Apply Early Decision

Some schools have Early Decision or Early Action applications. These are usually used by students who are confident about the institution they are applying to. There may be benefits to these applications, such as no fee or no application essay required, but there could also be downfalls. Read all details about early applications, because some have policies that state you will not be able to apply Regular Decision if you are not accepted, and others may have a binding contract that requires you to attend their school if you are accepted. 

Related: Applying to College Early: Early Action Deadlines, Early Decision Deadlines, and More

Even though the college search may be frustrating and stressful at times, remember that your future is not determined by the school you choose. If you enroll at a school and decide you want to leave after the first semester, it is acceptable and possible to transfer to a different school. You should always make the choices that make you happy. Good luck!

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About Emily Tatum

I am a high school senior in North Carolina, and I am not ashamed to admit that I am utterly terrified about what the next few years have in store for me. But I am excited to find out. I look forward to sharing my journey with you and hopefully hearing about your own journeys if you are willing to share.


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