One of the things I love most about working in higher education recruitment is getting to see such a variety of students and families taking part in the search process. I’ve had a student take a Greyhound bus over 12 hours by herself to visit a campus and I’ve had a student who brought his parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, three cousins, and nephew with him to tour campus. No matter who is taking part in your college search process with you, it’s essential that you stay in continual communication. To over-simplify the nature of this, I’ve broken down these stages of the “research” process into the following three sections:
When you first begin your search process, I highly recommend sitting down with someone who knows you well and taking some time to discuss what you might be looking for: How far is too far to go? What might you want to study in college? Do you think you’d be better in a close-knit campus community or a large institution with robust offerings?
These questions can help shape your initial search of schools which might catch your attention. Sure, you may get a beautiful flyer in the mail from a school you’ve never heard of, but oftentimes your “first draft” of schools you’re exploring will come from knowledge you already have about the school, whether that is from a friend or relative who attended, commercials you’ve seen, or your guidance counselor’s persuasion.
You’ve identified a handful of schools which you (and those taking part in the search process with you) believe could be viable options. The next step is to dig a bit deeper on these schools. This may mean campus visit, seeing a representative of the institution at a local college fair, or even scouring their website for additional information and insights. Communication is just as key at this stage as any other. Be sure to talk with those who are assisting your search process about what you’re learning, things you may not have initially considered to be important but suddenly are, and whether or not that initial fit you perceived is actually holding up under further scrutiny.
You’ve dug deeper. You’ve sought out the average class size statistics from the website. You’ve walked across the quad on campus. You’ve spoken face-to-face with a college representative. Immediately after learning new things about your potential schools, talk it out! If you toured campus, for example, talk with the others who accompanied you (if available) about their impression, things they noticed (positive and negative), or the emotional response they’re left with.
It’s absolutely paramount that you discuss these things immediately after your experience with a school (whatever the circumstance may be). While those details are fresh in your mind immediately after, they will fade or get mixed up with other schools that you’re exploring. I even encourage writing your thoughts down so you can go back and reference them later.
I regularly meet with students and families who are trying to knock out two or three campus visits in one day or check out schools in the fall and don’t visit again but are trying to make a college decision in May based on memories that are seven or eight months old. The more diligent you are in talking about these schools with those who are assisting your search process and documenting your thoughts and impressions, the more beneficial your research at this stage will be when it comes time to make that final decision.