How Do I Begin Looking For Colleges?

How To Begin Your College Search

by Carolyn Z. Lawrence,


There are over 2,600 four-year colleges in the United States.  How do you decide where to apply, and, once you’re admitted, which college to attend?


The decision begins and ends with you. While you should certainly seek advice and ideas from your family, teachers, advisors, and others who know you well, ultimately, the decision of where to apply and attend college will be yours to make. Therefore, the place to start your college search isn’t a guidebook or a website, but with self-evaluation.


Before you crack open a guidebook or start visiting college websites, here are some important questions to ask yourself:


Who are you? It's important to find a school where you can feel comfortable or at least be able to adapt fairly well. Are you shy or outgoing? Someone who isn't afraid to take calculated risks, or someone who tends to play things safe? Are you comfortable being around people who are very different than you or more at ease with people who are similar toyou? How would you describe yourself to someone who didn't know you? How would your best friend describe you?


Why are you going to college? Your family and friends may expect you to go to college, but you are the person who will actually spend four years attending college. So, in answering this question, think beyond the easy "it's expected" answer.  How do you see yourself changing and growing during college?  While you may not have a major or career in mind yet, what are some subjects that you'd like to take courses in during college, or careers that are on your radar?  What are your life goals as you currently see them, and how do you anticipate college will help you reach those goals?  Do you want to attend college more for intellectual growth or career preparation, or a combination of both? When you walk up to receive your college diploma four years from now, who do you hope to be?


What type of learner are you? College is an educational endeavor first and foremost, so before you start shopping for colleges, consider how you learn best.  Reflect upon your learning experiences so far to answer this question.  Do classes with lots of discussion and debate get your blood flowing?  Are you most at home in classes where there is lots of hands-on learning, such as labs and art courses? Did you love that summer course or program because it let you focus on just one subject? Do you thrive in courses where there's a focus on abstract ideas, or one where ideas are applied to solve real-world problems?  Do you love classes that move at a fast pace, or are you more comfortable in classes where learning takes place at a less frantic pace?  Are you most motivated to learn when you have to stretch to keep up with everyone else, or happier when you are towards the top of the class and can learn at your own pace? The better you understand yourself as a learner, the better you'll be able to find colleges that are a good academic fit for you. 


What do you need to succeed in college?  Be honest with yourself. Which high school courses have you found most challenging, and why? How strong are you when it comes to these skills, all of which are necessary to succeed in college: reading, researching, note-taking, organization, and time management? Do you need extra support or tutoring in some subjects? Are you the type of student who can work independently or do you need more individual attention and help from your teachers? When it comes to school work, are you a self-starter or someone who needs a push every now and then?


What's your admissions profile? What are your strengths and weaknesses as a college applicant (and, yes, every applicant has both strengths and weaknesses)? What will an admissions officer notice when he looks at your high school classes, grades, and test scores? How closely do they match the typical admitted student at the colleges and universities that interestyou? What do you have to add to a college community?  What do your choices of extracurricular activities say about you? What are your teachers and counselor likely to say about you in their letters of recommendation? What distinguishes you as an applicant?


Finally, a word about choosing colleges based on where your friends are applying.  As a general rule, you should always select a college because it is right for you personally, not because a friend is also applying or will be attending.  If your friend ends up at the same school as you, great - but don't base your entire college decision solely on where your friends are going.  This is your life!


Next: College Search Factors To Consider



Based in San Diego County, California, Carolyn Z. Lawrence is a private college admissions consultant who has helped hundreds of students from across the country and around the world find the right college matches.  Learn more about her college planning services for families.


© Copyright 2012, All rights reserved. May not be copied or distributed without written permission from Carolyn Z. Lawrence.  School counselors: If you'd like to share this article with your students, please contact me and I'll be happy to provide a print copy suitable for distribution.


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