Conducting a College Search

Post High School Planning Guide

Far too many students start the search process backwards… they ask what the school wants from them. Before looking at any schools, it is important to start out with some introspection. Determining what you are looking for will give you a yardstick by which to measure schools as you look at them. Make a list of the things that you are looking for in a school. As you consider many factors, you will find that some are essential to you, some fit in the “it would be nice” category and some things just won’t matter to you.

Looking For A Little Humor in the Process?
Admission professionals from Georgia Tech have put together a blog to help students and parents navigate through and understand the many facets of conducting a college search.  Click here to access the blog.  

Here are a few to consider:

  • Location: Do I want to live at home? If not, how far away from home do I want to go?
  • Size: Do I find a large school exciting – or frightening? Do I find a small school comfortable – or confining? Larger schools can usually provide a wider range of experiences. Smaller school can usually provide more personal support.
  • Programs: Am I looking for a wide-ranging liberal arts experience, or am I more focused on a specific course of professional study? Does the school offer special programs that interest me… honors, special seminars, internships, study abroad? Can this school provide the academic experiences I’m looking for?
  • Atmosphere: It is not just about academic studies… a great deal of the college experience is what happens outside the classroom. Some campuses are very social. Some emphasize religion and morality. Some campuses are more politically active than others and may be liberal or conservative. Some emphasize sports and other extracurricular involvement.
  • Competitiveness: Students often ask “Can I get into [College X]?” This is the wrong question. The correct question is “Would I be successful in [College X]?” People respond differently to challenge. Do I want to start off as one of the smartest students in my class? Do I rise to a challenge and seek to be surrounded by students who find learning easier than I do? Do I do my best work when I start off near the middle of my class?
  • Public or Private: Public schools tend to be larger and less expensive. Private schools tend to be smaller, with smaller class sizes and more personal support. The expense difference can become a complicated calculation, depending on individual family circumstances.
  • Admissions: Though not the most important factor, at some point a student needs to be realistic about admission standards. Don’t give up on a school automatically because you don’t think you will be admitted… if the school meets all your other criteria but you think you won’t be admitted, discuss it with your counselor.

How to Begin Your Search

To begin your college search, start by creating a list of priorities. Ask important questions about yourself such as:

  • Name three values that are most important to you.
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • What inspires you?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What are the first words that come to mind when asked to describe yourself?
  • Are you a morning or night person?
  • Do you like peace and quiet or hustle and bustle?
  • What are you known for in your family?
  • What teacher do you have an important relationship with and why?
  • What has been your greatest challenge in high school?
  • What are your weaknesses academically?
  • What subjects have you excelled in?
  • Do you prefer a large lecture class or a small discussion group?
  • Is it important to you to have close relationships with your teachers?
  • Why are you going to college?
  • Is there a career you are intent on pursuing?
  • If you took a year off before college, what would you do?
  • What balance of study, activities and social life are you looking for?
  • Is there an activity you insist on pursuing in college?
  • Are you ready to live far from home?
  • Do you like being around people like yourself or do you prefer a more diverse community?

Tips: Think about the "why" of each of your answers. Actually write out your responses to the questions and be sure to distinguish between wants and needs. Turn your list of priorities into a list of colleges. Notice the trends in your responses to the questions above and search for schools that match those priorities.

Questions to Ask a College

  • What are your admission standards/requirements/deadlines? What is required in your application process?
  • What impresses you the most in a student's application?
  • What are you looking for when you read students' essays?
  • What are some of the things you hate to see in an application?
  • What kind of student does well here? What kind of student doesn't do well here?
  • What do you think your school is best known for?
  • What changes do you see taking place on campus in the next five years?
  • What do you consider to be the top academic programs at your college?
  • How easy or hard it is to change your major? At what point do I need to declare a major?
  • What percent of students receive financial aid? What is the average financial aid package?
  • What is the average debt upon graduation?
  • How accessible and supportive are the faculty? What percent of classes are taught by professors?
  • What type of advising program do you offer for students?
  • What type of academic assistance do you offer for students?
  • What is the four-year graduation rate at your school? Five year? What is the retention rate of first year students?
  • What do students like most about your school? Least?
  • What is a typical freshman academic schedule? How does the school help freshmen adjust to college?
  • Are first-year students required to live in the residence halls? Do most upper class students live on or off campus?
  • How would you describe the typical student here?
  • What role does technology play in the curriculum?
  • What athletic opportunities does your campus offer?
  • What changes do you see taking place on campus in the next five years?
  • What makes your school different from other colleges that are similar in size and reputation?

Specific Questions To Ask a Student/Tour Guide

  • Why did you decide to go here?
  • What was your biggest surprise about the school?
  • What would you change about the school?
  • What student groups are the most active?
  • How is the food?
  • What is the social life like on your campus? How often do students typically go home? What activities are available on the weekends?
  • How do students get around campus?
  • Is the campus considered safe at night?

Campus Visits

Visiting a college campus is a great way to access information as well as to get a feel for the overall atmosphere of a particular school. Schools may feel very different than what is conveyed through their literature and on their website. Therefore, it is very beneficial for prospective students to make a campus visit.

Before you contact the school you plan to visit, check out their web page and see if there are certain areas of campus that you are especially interested in seeing, for example: the work-out facility, library, etc. It can be very beneficial to visit a college or university when school is in session. You want to get the feeling of what the campus is like with students there.

Tips For Setting Up A Campus Visit

  • It is important to set up your visit at least two weeks in advance. Surprise visits are usually not productive visits for you or the college.
  • You may schedule a campus visit online through the college website or by calling the admission office.
  • Make sure you attend the campus information session and do the campus tour; two important components of any college visit.
  • Ask if you may have lunch on campus so you can look at their dinning facilities. (Some colleges will give you a voucer to eat lunch on campus for free.)
  • Ask if you are able to meet with a faculty member in the area that interests you or sit in on a class.
  • Find out if it is possible to stay over night in one of the residence halls.
  • Allow time to check out the favorite hangouts on campus.

Advice for Parents on College Visits

On the National Association for College Admission Counseling Listserve, the following list was circulated with advice for parents regarding the campus visit. Suggestions were collected from college admission personnel across the country and condensed into the following list.

  • Don't use the royal "we." Don't say, "We want to attend your university next year," or other similar comments. The "we" pronoun is a pretty clear indicator that the student isn't really the one running the search!
  • Don't take a phone call during an information session and/or campus tour and don't sit in an information session and do business on your device.
  • Don't speak for your student; ownership of the process should belong to the student.
  • Don't monopolize the conversation/tour/discussion session.
  • Parents should be cautious about what they say about a college visit. If a parent speaks negatively about a school, a student might dig their heels in and say they are interested in the college, even if they initially were not interested or the opposite may occur.
  • Do remind your child about appropriate behavior and dress when on campus. Remember that the tour and discussion session are important pieces of the process and ones where behaviors can distinguish one, positively and negatively.
  • Do remind your child to turn their cell phone off!
  • Do feel free to ask questions of a student on campus that is not a campus tour guide. Stop a student walking to class and ask them a question or two so as not to always get "canned" responses to your questions.
  • Do consider visiting a school more than once if your student really likes it. Your opinion of a school may change as you go through the process.

Final Thoughts to Consider

  • It is hard not to, but try not to let the weather (especially bad weather) impact your impressions of the school.
  • Ask questions of several different students. You'll probably get several different answers, but each one will give you a clearer picture of campus life.
  • Pick up a campus calendar or newspaper to see what events and hot topics are taking place on campus.
  • Ask yourself: "Can I see myself here?"
  • Consider visiting a school more than once if you really like it. Your opinion of a school may change as you go through the process.
  • Journal during the college search process, you will be taking in a lot of information in a short amount of time. Therefore, it is important to document your thoughts about a school immediately after you visit. What did you like about the school? What didn't you like? Try and pinpoint the things that provoked a positive, or negative reaction. You can take pictures or make lists of the positives and negatives of the school. Do whatever necessary to be able to accurately remember the important things about the schools and how you felt about them - just don't become too involved in documenting your visit that you don't really experience the college!

Virtual Tours

If you are unable to visit one of the colleges you are considering, see if they have a virtual tour on their website or through one of the websites below.

Helpful Websites


Naviance is a web-based service designed especially for students and parents. Family Connection is a comprehensive website that you can use to help in making decisions about courses, colleges and careers. Family Connection is linked with Counselor's Office, a service that we use in our office to track and analyze data about college and career plans, so it provides up-to-date information that is specific to our school.


Students: To log in to Naviance, use the same login and password you use to access Family Access.

Parents: If you have logged in before you will have created your own username and password. If you have not logged in before or are having trouble logging in, please contact Terri Marr for your login information at 763-745-6630 or

What You Will Find on Naviance?

  • College Lookup and Visit Schedule
    Students can look-up information on a specific college as well as view when college representatives will be visiting Wayzata HS. These visits can be viewed online by clicking on the "College" tab and then selecting "view all upcoming college visits" link, or by viewing the page for a particular college.
  • College Search
    Enter criteria such as size, location, cost, availability of specific majors or athletic programs; students can then produce a list of colleges that meet their criteria.
  • Scattergrams
    A graphical view of application outcomes (accepted, denied, waitlisted) at a college for recent Wayzata applicants, using GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Students can gauge their chances of acceptance by comparing personal GPA/ACT numbers with those of successful applicants. If your student has not taken the ACT or SAT exam yet, it will take your student's PLAN score and estimate what their ACT score will be in order to allow you to still use this feature.
  • Transcripts
    You will be able to view when your transcripts/applications were sent to the colleges for which you applied. (Select the "College" tab and then click on the "transcripts" link on the left-hand side.)
  • Letters of Recommendation
    You will be able to view when a letter of recommendation you requested from a teacher has been turned into the counseling office. (Select the "College" tab and then click on the link that says "Colleges I'm Applying To." If you scroll down the page you will see a Teacher Recommendations heading. The teachers name and the word "completed" will appear if the letter has been turned in.
  • Scholarships
    Search the Sallie Mae national scholarship clearinghouse and view local scholarships posted by the College and Career Center.

Students with Disabilities


What Accommodations Might a College/University Provide?

A college or university has the flexibility to select the specific aid or service it provides, as long as it is effective.

Accommodations may include:

  • providing readers for blind or learning disabled individuals
  • providing qualified interpreters and note takers for deaf and hard of hearing students
  • providing note takers for students with learning disabilities
  • allowing extra time to complete exams
  • permitting examinations to be individually proctored, read orally, dictated, or typed; changing test formats (e.g., from multiple choice to essay) using alternative forms for students to demonstrate course mastery (e.g., a narrative tape instead of a written journal) permitting the use of computer software programs or other assistive technological devices to assist in test-taking and study skills

How to Prepare for Post-Secondary Education

Students with disabilities who know their rights and responsibilities are much better equipped to succeed in post-secondary education.

  • Make sure your testing is up-to-date and obtain copies of your records.
  • Learn about your disability--specific description of your disability, academic and personal strengths and weaknesses, what support did you receive in high school.
  • Learn how to be a self-advocate--become knowledgeable and comfortable about describing your disability so you can advocate for yourself with faculty.
  • Be able to answer the following two questions: In college, I think I will need help in the following areas... and I would benefit from the following classroom modifications...
  • Be organized.
  • Set realistic goals and priorities for coursework.
  • Keep one calendar with all relevant dates, assignments and appointments.
  • Make notes of any question you might have so that they can be answered before the next exam.
  • Estimate how long a given class assignment will take, generally planning on two hours outside of class for every hour in class; build in study breaks.