Essential Steps to Selecting a
Chances are, picking a college may be the most important decision you've made so far. With more than 3,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States alone, it can seem overwhelming. But here's the good news: There are scores of outstanding colleges and universities nationwide, plus lots of information available on how to select one that's right for you. You can start your selection process with a few simple steps:
• Identify your must-haves. Ask yourself some serious questions: Do I want to attend a large university or a small college? Do I want my school to be in a rural, suburban, or urban setting? Do I want to live close to home? What can I afford? Will my family help pay for my education? Do I want to live on campus or commute? What do I want to major in? Answering these questions will go a long way toward helping you create a list of schools that meet your criteria.
• Develop a list of contenders. Make an appointment with your college counselor and describe the things you want from a school. Based on what your counselor knows about you, he or she might have some great suggestions. Get ideas from family and friends. And, avail yourself of our free Web-based college matching service, My College Options. Spend a few minutes completing your personal profile and My College Options will provide you a list of colleges in order of compatibility. (Hint: You can redo your profile and search criteria as often as you change your mind! No charge.)
• Request information. If you haven't already requested brochures and applications through My College Options, call or email your top schools and ask for admissions packets. Spend some time looking at your schools' glossy viewbooks and Flash-enabled websites; you'll find that each school has its own personality. (As you read, remember each college is trying to put its best foot forward.) And supplement the material you receive from colleges with information from college guides, conversations with current students, friends, family, and counselors.
• Narrow your list and apply. Spend time talking with your parents about which schools they would like you to consider. Also, have the money talk; ask your parents how much they will contribute financially toward your higher education. If you and your parents disagree about school choices, listen to their points, explain your side, and try and develop a "consensus list". There's no rule about how many schools you should apply to. Some people apply to as many as a dozen; others send in one application only. (Keep in mind that most colleges request application fees, usually around $50. So applying can get expensive.)
• It may also be helpful to divide your top choices into "reach" schools—those that might be a stretch financially or academically; mid-range schools where you're likely to get in but aren't sure; and safety schools—the sure bets. A good rule of thumb: Apply to three reach schools, three mid-range school, and two safety schools.
Narrow your list again to your favorite three schools where you have been accepted and make the trip. You will never know if a college "feels" right until you set foot on campus.