Once you have determined the factors that are important to you and learned a bit about different schools and what they offer, you need to meld those two items into a preliminary list of colleges to investigate further. You can talk to your counselor throughout this process. Keep in mind, there is no ideal college that will fit all your criteria. At the end of your junior year, you may have a list with as many as thirty colleges. That’s O.K. At this early stage of the process, it is good to cast as wide a net
as possible and keep your options open.
Do the investigative legwork. Read college brochures (with a critical eye), visit campuses (in real life or via virtual tour at a college’s website), watch videos, and talk to current students and alumni.
If you can, visit college campuses. This is the best way to get a feel for the college. Take tours and attend group information sessions. Talk to current students. Compare this first-hand impression with what you’ve read. See the post on “Visiting College Campuses” for more on visiting colleges.
Refine the list. Add or delete colleges based on your continued research.
Read mailings. Colleges acquire lists of names and addresses from the companies that administer standardized tests. If it hasn’t begun already, you will shortly find your home mailbox stuffed daily with letters and brochures from a variety of colleges and universities. Take a look at some of these before tossing them toward the recycling bin; you may learn about unfamiliar schools or particular events/programs/offerings of schools in which you are already interested.
Narrow your options. By the end of your junior year, you should have done enough research to sit down with your counselor and begin the discussion of narrowing your options (or, as the case may be, exploring other options as your focus changes—remember, you’re still growing and maturing, and what you think you want in the middle of your junior year may totally change
by the fall of your senior year!).
You will soon discover that applying to colleges can be a draining and time-consuming business (and expensive as well—most applications are now $70 to $95 with fee waivers available to those who need them). It requires hours of research, hours of talking (to admissions officers, alumni, coaches, friends, teachers, and parents), hours of filling out applications and a great deal of thought. To be done properly and with the least amount of anxiety, it also requires organization.
You may want a big binder or bin in which you can collect paper and print materials. You should also create a college application Google Drive folder for notes, information, and a spreadsheet for your college lists. Develop a good system, physical or digital, for keeping track of the following items:
Notes on the various colleges you are considering.
A chart of application deadlines.
A record of tests you have taken, when you took them, and the colleges to which you have sent them.
A record of your college-related accounts, usernames, passwords.
A record of interview appointments.
Copies of the essays and short answer responses you have submitted.
No website or resource can begin to answer all the questions you will have, but if you begin by reading this handbook carefully and following the recommended procedures, you'll waste less time on the details and have more time for the larger questions facing you throughout the college admission process.