The most important part of the college or university selection process is finding the best match. Making the right college choice will play a significant role in students’ likelihood of success for school and their career.
There's a way to increase your odds of making the right choice, and that's by having an organized, detailed college selection process.
Here are the four crucial steps you can make for choosing the right college:
Set your priorities
The first step is determining what type of college or university you want to attend. There are countless options available to you, so it's important to base your decision on your particular preferences.
Begin this process by writing down the following categories:
- Academics. Consider what study interests you—liberal arts, engineering, technology, law, general studies—don't declare a major, just know what you like.
- Size. Think about if you want the large-scale excitement of a state university or the intimacy of a smaller college . . . or something in between.
- Housing. Dorm living or off-campus housing? Both offer advantages and disadvantages.
- Campus/culture. A rural or metro campus? Do you have sports or other extracurricular interests?
- Cost. What can you afford in terms of tuition, housing, transportation, and regional cost of living? Be sure to research your scholarship and student load opportunities.
With your priorities in mind, you can start a journal page for each school you find interesting and create a report card. Give each school grades on the above five categories on the following grade scale:
- A: Interests you greatly
- B: Interests you, but isn't ideal
- C: Meets average interest
- D: Below average
- F: Undesirable, out of consideration
As you go about your college selection process, you can always flip open your planner and jot down a new thought or impression. These grades are likely to change as you learn about new schools in your college search process.
Do your research the right way
In order to improve your chances of finding and being accepted by that ideal school, it's important that you establish a foolproof, repeatable research routine.
In order to improve your chances of finding a quality school and being accepted, it's important that you keep complete and detailed records of everything associated with the college search process.
Now, begin your research through the following resources:
- School websites
- College viewbooks
- College profile magazines like Private Colleges & Universities or Public Colleges & Universities
- High school counselor
- College fairs
- Brochures (request information through CollegeXpress or call school admission offices to get info mailed to you)
- Online resources such as CollegeXpress or National Association for College Admission Counseling
As you come across schools that meet your interest, write down the following details on the report card page for each school you started in the previous step:
- Deadlines for application and financial aid forms
- Notes on conversations, thoughts, and impressions
- Notes from college visits and any interviews or conversations with the school admission staff
- Overall impressions of the school and campus
These steps are commonly bypassed by applicants who don't follow an organized college search process. But having these details will enhance your chances of success because they keep you informed of where you've been and where you're going.
Stay on schedule!
Most college searches go off-track due to a failure to keep a schedule. Don't let that be you—this is far too important and expensive a decision to risk.
A well-managed calendar is the most important tool you can use for your college search. It's crucial you dedicate one, and only one, calendar for tracking your milestones and deadlines, including:
- College application deadlines
- Meetings with your college counselor
- College fairs
- College representative visits to your school
- Deadlines for receiving teacher recommendations
- A deadline for choosing 10 schools
- A deadline for the final number of schools you'll apply to
- College interviews and visits
- Your final decision—set a date as your "finish line!"
Because each school maintains its own specific set of deadlines, maintaining a college search calendar is crucial to keeping all your dates organized.
Get a jump on the competition
You need to make the strongest impression possible, because there's a crowd of people like you all vying for that acceptance letter to the school you desire.
Use the following tips and you will greatly increase chances for college acceptance:
- Do a practice run first—submit a clean and polished application
- Spell-check your essays and have a parent or family member proofread
- Schedule a follow-up phone call with the admission office to ensure your application was received and processed properly
- Confirm that your standardized test scores were forwarded onto the school
- Follow-up all interviews with thank you notes—schedule it in your calendar the date after your interview
Remember, every little move counts in your favor. Admission officials can't help but be impressed by the organized and responsible manner in which you've approached your application process.
Congratulations! You've done your homework, you've applied to schools, and you've been accepted by several.
Now, it's time to choose the right college for you. Base your decision with a final review of the following categories:
- Report cards. Compare the report cards of schools you're considering, be sure to note any large advantages in certain categories you consider more important than others.
- Visits. Review your notes and recall the overall impression and emotions you experienced during your campus visit.
- Interviews. Read through any notes you took during your interviews—you likely wrote down items that were of particular interest or displeasure.
- Students. Spend some time getting the impressions of current students, through conversations or e-mail. Be sure to ask them pros and cons of attending the school.
Of course, it's going to be a difficult decision—it's supposed to be—but the one thing you have going for you that others don't is confidence. You are armed with the confidence that you've thoroughly explored your options throughout your college search.
A well-executed process will improve your chances of selecting the college or university that's right for you. Follow these tips for making a better choice for yourself, and for putting yourself a step ahead of the other candidates by having an organized college search.