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.