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Starting the College Search: Beginner’s Guide

Starting the College Search: Beginner’s Guide

Cover the basics of the college search process.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

There’s no better way to start the college search than to simply jump right in. And the best time to take your first dip is at the start of the school year. You are fresh from summer break and most likely a little more enthusiastic about school in general in August versus, let’s say, November.

So how do you get started? There are countless guide books out there to help you navigate searching, applying and deciding on a school. But to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, there are just three steps you need to take to get your feet wet.

1. Assess your academic style. Do you flourish under the close instruction of your teachers or do you perform better when learning on your own? Is it important for you to participate in discussion or would you rather simply take notes from your teacher’s lecture? Asking yourself these basic questions can help you identify the type of schools you should be looking into.

Identifying your academic style will help you decide between a school that has smaller class sizes and more individual attention or a larger school with lecture style classes that requires more accountability on your part to know your stuff.

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And maybe you’ll discover that you don’t want to spend the next four years in a classroom at all. If not, look into getting an Associate’s degree at a community or college or dive right into career training at a vocational or career school.

2. Determine your desired social scene. Since you were a kid, you’ve been dreaming of what you want to be when you grow up. But have you ever stopped to consider the type of person you want to be in college?

Your major won’t be the only thing that defines you on campus. Your athletic, social and cultural interests will shape you just as much as your academic experience. No doubt you’ll want to continue your passion for some of your extracurricular activities in high school but you’ll also want to explore new clubs and organizations.

College is the chance for you to really push yourself. In your ideal college life, do you want to push yourself to learn a new language and then study abroad in that country? Is there a drive to master golf or tennis? What about testing your creativity in a photography or painting club?

Essentially, as you’re thinking about your future social life, think about who you would want to be and what you would want to get out of your campus experience if there weren’t any limitations.

3. Practically apply your collegiate dreams through research. Once you’ve realized your academic style and social expectations, it’s time to dive in and do some research. One great place to start is with friends, family and your guidance counselor. Share what you’re looking for in a school and get their opinions.

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Next, start looking up schools online. Most schools now offer a comprehensive look in the admissions section of their website at the type of students they accept, popular majors and extracurriculars and what students go on to do after graduation. Many schools will even offer a virtual tour of the campus on their website.

After you’ve done your initial research, make a list of the college campuses you would like to physically visit. Take notes and photos on your campus visits so you can compare schools later when the tough decisions are being made.

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