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Resource CenterCollege Search & SelectionCollege ResearchWhen to Get Started with College Search

When Should I Start My College Search?

Selecting a college is a big decision, and like most major decisions, it should be made only after thorough research. For some families, the financial investment associated with a college education is second only to what they have invested in their homes. With so many options available, the obvious question is, “When should I start my college search?”

Is freshman year too soon?

While some college students report that they always knew they would attend college, few began to search for the right college until they entered high school. So beginning the search in the freshman year of high school isn’t too early to start. The sooner you begin, the more time you have to look at the different types of colleges and to learn what they have to offer. At this point you shouldn’t focus on picking a college. Your task is simply to collect information.

Do I have to know what I want to study in college before beginning?

The answer to this question is simple: Absolutely not! In fact, about half of the students enrolling as college freshmen each year enroll as undecided majors. In other words, they do not know exactly what they want to study during their college careers. (Those students who indicate that they do know what they want to study frequently change their minds after enrolling.) Not knowing what you want to study shouldn’t be a source of frustration or embarrassment. Keeping an open mind about what to study is probably a good idea since many college freshmen really don’t understand what is involved in the various fields of study. Colleges and universities offer a variety of programs and services designed to help students pick a major, and most colleges will allow students a year to a year-and-a-half after enrolling to make this choice.

If I don’t know what I want to study, how can I know if the college offers what I want?

Not knowing what you want to study in college isn’t the same as not having an idea of your general interests. Although about half of all college freshmen enter college with an undeclared major, most of them have some idea of the general areas that are of interest but not necessarily the exact aspect of the area they would like to study. For example, a college freshman might know that he wants something in the liberal arts and sciences; he may not know if he wants to study psychology, sociology or history.

Knowing your general area of interest is a good initial step. It can serve as a first-cut in deciding what to study. For example, if you want to study engineering and sciences, you know what kind of school to look for -- those that offer majors in engineering and sciences. So while you may not know exactly what you want to study, you may know what you do not want to study.

In summary, it’s never too early to begin the process. Use all of the time you have to sort out the options. The more time you spend on the process early on, the easier your final decision will be.


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