Student Life

4 Steps to a Stress-Free College Search

Searching for the right college can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be!

Caleb Wensloff, Student Contributor

October 18, 2019

4 Steps to a Stress-Free College Search
As your life in high school continues to flow by and the time comes to start your college search, you may be wondering where and how to start the process. After all, searching for the right college, your next academic future, can be a very stressful and overwhelming experience. However, it doesn’t have to be! There are four main factors in finding the right college: school appearance, academics, possible financial aid, and gathering hands-on experience. Focusing on these few steps will put you right on the path toward developing your dream college list.
1. Zone into what your dream college looks like.
You should first have a good idea as to what your dream college atmosphere looks like. There are many factors that produce a perfect college atmosphere, but it can usually be broadened down into three factors: campus location, setting, and available activities outside the basic academic area. Location: The location of your dream campus is perhaps one of the most important things a student can look for. Deciding whether you want the location to be close to home or far away is a good starting point. Being close to home can save time and money, as you aren’t paying those hefty dorm fees or spending extra to see family. Though these are some strong pluses, being away from home provides you with a variety of options. Perhaps a college right on beach would feel best over the suburbs. You may also want to be right in the city rather than tucked away in the hills. Deciding a college location where you feel would be a thriving opportunity will benefit you in the long run. Campus Setting: Many students state that the college atmosphere was a major factor in choosing their next academic future. Finding the right campus setting can mostly fall along the lines of campus size, facilities available, and basic characteristics such as diversity. You may feel more at home in a campus with thousands of students, or at one with only a thousand. In addition, an advanced technology center or a large buffet-style dining hall might appeal to you. These are some of many examples that define what you look for in a college campus. Diversity is also a very important factor to consider that many tend to overlook. You may thrive in hearing the different beliefs and values, feeling inspired to try new things and learn about different cultures. You may also be set on your beliefs and values, with the hope of being around people with a similar mindset. Either way is perfectly fine, and there are colleges out there that can accommodate any of these needs. Extracurriculars: Although the stressful life of extracurricular activities in high school is over, you may have new interests outside of the academic world that you now want to pursue. Different colleges have a variety of extracurricular activities to choose from that can be unique from the average sport and club in high school. Certain campuses allow you to learn something new, such as surfing or the art of professional theater. Like all of the other factors, it really depends on the college and each school can bring a unique list of opportunities.
2. Focus on the academic side of your desired colleges.
Now that you have the basics of what you are looking for in a college, it’s time to dive into the academic side of things. Typically, you want to look for the possible majors you are interested in, followed by the type of college you prefer. Interesting Majors: To start off your academic search, you would first need to decide what you are interested in pursuing. This can be a very difficult and stressful task to do, especially if you are not yet looking toward a specific career. If this is the case, take some time to reflect on what you enjoy and research the job opportunities related to these things. Once you have a good idea on a career subject, research the types of degrees that field requires. Each major can translate to a variety of career paths, so it’s important to note that completing a certain major will give you many job opportunities down the road. Type of College: There are really only two choices of college: a two-year school (such as a community college) or a four-year school. With a two-year school, you can get an Associates’ Degree in a variety of majors that prove a certain level of experience in the work force. Some also start at the two-year college and transfer over to a four-year school that will accept them. This method tends to be significantly cheaper, as studying at a community college costs almost fifty-percent less than a four-year school, all while taking the same classes. If you do decide on the four-year route, there is still another option you must consider: a private or public college. A private college or university has a smaller number of students, and brings more direct focus on a small number of majors. This can mean a smaller class size and a more personal approach to teaching, whereas a public college has a broader set of academic fields with majors that can generally accommodate everyone.
3. Look to see if the college has financial aid or scholarships.
Being in college can have a hefty price tag, so an important step in your search is looking out for financial aid and possible scholarships from either the desired college or an independent organization. Financial Aid: The financial aid available to you can come from a variety of different sources. Though this is a rare occasion, the college may be able to deduct its price depending on your situation. There are also many other ways to get financial aid, such as through the FAFSA application, student loans, or grants. However, there are some mixed feelings regarding student loans and grants, so it is important to do more research and find out which of these options can work best for you. Scholarship Opportunities: Scholarships are also a very important way to get “easy money” for college. Whether it be from the school itself or independent websites, like Fastweb, there are thousands of scholarships ready for the taking.
4. Take advantage of college fairs and visit colleges you’re interested in.
There are two ways to get even more involved with your college search and get a personal feel for the schools you are interested in. Through college fairs, you can gain a new level of experience and insight into the schools that a computer search cannot do. These fairs allow you to ask student representatives about life on campus, as well as gain important knowledge about the aid they offer. Most colleges also offer tours that can give you great insight into what college life actually looks like. Those who chose a certain campus have described a “gut feeling,” that they belonged at the school upon first entering for a tour. Seeing the dorm rooms, tasting the food, and walking the campus are all important factors that determine whether the school is right for you.

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