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College Search Do’s And Don’ts

When looking for the best college that fits you, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of schools to choose from.

Follow these simple college search do’s and don’ts when looking for your dream school.

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college search do's and don'ts

DO Start Early

The earlier you start considering schools, the better off you’ll be.

To really simplify the process, you should:

  • Start a preliminary search during sophomore year
  • Begin narrowing down choices during junior year

By the middle of your junior year, ideally, you should have a list of schools you’re seriously interested in. If it takes a bit more time, that’s ok. But look to follow a timeline close to this or else you’ll stress too hard later on.

DO Visit Schools In-Person

Nothing beats walking around campus and seeing it up close and personal.

It’s important to remember that most schools will have plenty of information online already. However, every school appears differently online and in print, especially if it’s promotional material.

Visiting campus in person lets you get a feel for the size, student interactions, the local surrounding area, and available resources.

DO Consider The Location

Location affects many variables, so be aware.

Where you go to learn affects things like:

  • Cost
  • Travel
  • Budget
  • Family Obligations

If you live in Iowa and choose to stay in-state, then your worries will be far less than going to study in New York. The further away you choose to go affects how much money you’ll need to use and also the culture you’ll encounter.

DO Research Housing Options

Do you want to live on campus or off?

Outside tuition, housing makes up a significant cost over your college career. The biggest factors to consider are:

  • Living on campus in a dorm
  • Living off campus in an apartment or house

If you want to stay on campus, then you’ll need to research available housing options, prices, and what’s available to whom. Many colleges want freshmen to live in dorms no matter what.

In those cases, spots fill up fast on a first come, first serve basis. If you want to live off campus, then you’ll need to research apartments early, figure out how to cover rent, transportation, etc.

DO Think About College Size

How comfortable are you with learning around other people?

Many freshmen underestimate how large colleges can get, and how that size affects learning quality. Questions to think about include:

  • Do you learn well from lectures alone?
  • Do you need more one-on-one help?
  • Are you comfortable talking in front of crowds?

If you’re a bit shyer and don’t do well with lots of people crowded together, then look for schools with smaller student bodies and instructor-to-student ratios.

DON’T Apply To Only ONE School

You have choices. Explore them all.

There are thousands of schools in the United States, with all kinds of specialties. Take advantage of that diversity to give yourself options. Use these criteria to help narrow your search:

  • Majors you’re interested in
  • Geographic areas you want to live in

Another obvious benefit of checking out multiple schools is having backups in case your first choice doesn’t admit you. Finding safety schools that are as strong as your number one choice brings peace of mind and increases odds of admittance to a great institution.

DON’T Write Off A School Because Of Price

Don’t sweat tuition during your search.

Look into every option during your search, even if it’s schools that you believe you can’t afford. If price alone is the obstacle then don’t worry. There is a wide variety of funding options out there, from scholarships to federal student aid.

For example, Stanford covers tuition for students of parents with income below $125,000 a year. Don’t discount a school because of the price alone; chances are good that they have more funding options available than you’d think.

DON’T Pick Based On One Major

If you think you’ve locked in your major, that’s great but don’t limit yourself.

Lots of students think they have the perfect major picked before college. However, once you start taking classes in a variety of subjects, chances are good that you will have at least one change of heart.

That’s why it’s important to choose a school with a variety of strong programs. If you do change your mind, it’s easier to switch over into a program that’s just as interesting and vetted. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck.

DON’T Choose A School Without Campus Visit

Make sure to visit your ‘dream school’ at least once in person.

Why? Because everything looks good in advertisements, that’s the point. You need to actually set foot on campus and check out:

  • Physical layout between classroom buildings and other services
  • Student housing living conditions
  • Available campus resources

If everything matches up perfectly with the ads then great. But if you see problems that cause concern, it’s better to recognize them before committing to that school.

DON’T Freak Out

Everyone knows choosing a college is stressful, so accept the process and relax.

Remember these points:

  • Find the college that is right for YOU
  • Take control of the search process
  • Have fun looking at schools and programs
  • Always take a minute to breathe

College is an important step but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the journey.

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Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Written by Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Prep Expert Founder & CEO

Shark Tank Winner, Perfect SAT Scorer, Dermatologist, & #1 Bestselling Author
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