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How to Start Your College Search: A Summer Strategy

How to Start Your College Search before applying to colleges…

It’s hot outside and you’re hanging out with friends, perhaps taking some courses and working before heading back to school in the fall. It is also a great time, however, to invest in your future and start the ball rolling on your college search. Whether you’re entering high school, a rising sophomore or junior, or even heading into your senior year, a few basic steps can get you headed in the right direction. Where do you start?

Step one: Make a College Wish List

Start off by brainstorming about what you want in a college. Questions you should address in include the following.

• What are my academic interests, strengths, and possible majors?
• What extra-curricular activities are important to me?
• What region and climate would I like to spend my college years in?
• What size school would I be comfortable with, and do I want an urban or small town environment?
• What cost can my family afford? A discussion with your parents about financial aid or loan needs is necessary at this point.

Step Two: Talk to Alumni of these colleges

Get feedback from relatives and family friends on their college experiences. What school did they attend and what did they like or not like about that institution? Note that this feedback is just part of the process because most colleges have changed dramatically since your parents and their friends graduated.

Step Three: Identify these colleges and gather information

Access into free services such as the College Board’s “Student Search Service” and “College Search” to identify schools which meet your academic and non-academic guidelines. US News and World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” issue which lists schools by state and category is also worth ordering or picking up at a local book-store. Pay close attention to the school attributes featured in US News and World Report including acceptance standards, undergraduate academic reputation, and student retention rates. You need to get a sense of your admissions prospects and how undergraduates fare. You can then explore college web-sites and request information from college admissions offices.

Step Four: Narrow down college list and plan college visits

Once you have a grasp of what colleges are out there and what they offer you can start narrowing down your list to schools where you would be competitive in the application process and schools where you have a high probability of being admitted. Arrange visits with your family to as many of these schools as possible during your junior year or early in the fall of your senior year where you can get a feel for the setting and student life. This is an opportunity to set up an interview at schools which encourage it. Look into arranging visits to departments you are interested in where you can pose questions to faculty members or school representatives about class size and their success in placing students in graduate programs and jobs.


Summer is short and you need to recharge your batteries for the academic year ahead. It is also an ideal time to get a head start on a college search, which will play a crucial role in your future. This time could make getting into college, much easier for you.


David Dickson is on the college admissions counseling team at Top Test Prep. Top Test Prep provides expert private tutoring and admissions experts for students applying to K-12, college and grad schools. Call (800) 501-Prep to learn more.

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