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College Search | Picking a College | July 2012

The Little Known Secrets to Finding the Right College

By Jeff Doubek | For StudentAdvisor.com

jeff-doubek
Jeff Doubek

The most important part of the college or university selection process is finding the best match for you. Making the right college choice will play a significant role in your likelihood of success in school and in your career.

There are several ways to increase your odds of making the right choice, and it begins by keeping your college search and selection process organized and clear.

Here are four crucial steps for choosing the right college:

1) Set Your Priorities:

The first step is to determine 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 5 categories:

  • Academics: Consider what field interests you – liberal arts, engineering, technology, law, general studies. You don’t need to declare a major, but it will be helpful to narrow down what industries you like.
  • Size: Think about if you want the large-scale excitement of a state university or the intimacy of a smaller college.
  • Housing: Dorm living or off-campus housing? Both offer advantages and disadvantages, but know which you prefer your first year.
  • Campus/culture: Would you prefer a rural or metro campus? Do you want your college to have certain sports or other extra-curricular 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 loan opportunities.

With your priorities in mind, start a journal with a page for each school you find interesting. In this journal, give each page a “report card.” You can give each school grades on the above 5 categories on the following grade scale:

  • A: interest 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 journal 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.

2) Do Your Research Right:

In order to improve your chances of finding - and being accepted to - 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.

Begin your research through the following resources:

As you come across schools that meet your interest, write down the following details on the report card page for each school:

  • Deadlines for application and financial aid forms
  • Notes on conversations, thoughts and impressions
  • Overall impressions of the school and campus

These steps are commonly missed by applicants who don't follow an organized college search process. However, by having these details, you will stay informed of where you’ve been and where you’re going, and enhance your chances of success.

3) Stay on Schedule:

Most college searches can veer off-track due to failure to keep a schedule. Don't let that be you! This is a far too important and expensive 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 calendar for tracking your milestones and deadlines, including:

  • College application deadlines
  • Meetings with school counselor
  • College fairs
  • College representative visits to your school
  • Deadlines for receiving teacher recommendations
  • Your top 10: the deadline for choosing 10 schools
  • Your top 5: the deadline for picking 5 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. If you have trouble with a planner, try using Google Calendar or another computer planner.

4) Get a Jump on the Competition:

You need to make the strongest impression possible. Since there are many students similar to you vying for an acceptance letter to the school you desire, make sure you stand out from the crowd.

Take the following advice and increase your chances for college acceptance:

  • Spell-check your essays and have a parent or family member proofread for any errors you may have missed.
  • Schedule a follow-up phone call with admissions office to ensure your application was received and processed properly.
  • Confirm that your standardized test scores are sent to the schools to which you’ve applied.
  • Be sure to follow up any interviews with thank you notes – schedule it in your calendar the date after your interview.

Remember, every little move counts. Admissions officials will likely be impressed by the organized and responsible manner in which you've approached your application process.

5) Choose Wisely:

Congratulations! You've done your homework, you've applied to schools, and you've – hopefully – been accepted!

Now, it's time to choose the right college for you. Base your decision with a final review of the following steps:

  • Report cards: Compare the report cards of schools you're considering and 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 email. Be sure to ask them pros and cons of attending the school.

Of course, it's going to be a difficult decision, and it's supposed to be, but one thing you have going for you is confidence. You are armed with the confidence that you have greatly and deeply explored your options throughout your college search.

Jeff Doubek shares his expertise on student time management and productivity at the Day-Timer Blog. Visit Day-Timer for college study tips and student planner systems to get more done and achieve your goals.

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