Everyone says I need to research colleges and make a college list. What am I supposed to be doing? How do I research colleges?
Sometimes advice like “go research colleges” is oversimplified. With over 4000 colleges and universities (2-year, 4-year, public, private, and for-profit), it can be hard to know where to begin.
First, there is no right or wrong way to approach the college search process. Devote time and effort to the process and work within any financial or geographical limitations. The goal is to learn enough about different schools that you can make an educate evaluation of your student’s ability to fit in academically and socially.
The ultimate question for any student is, “Will I be happy and successful at this school?”
Research Colleges Online
Possibly the easiest way to get a lot of information in a short amount of time is to use the Internet.
Search for schools that meet your criteria.
Use sites such as CollegeBoard.com or CollegeXpress.com to find schools with your choice of major or level of college sports. You can find the top schools for musical theater or how many Division III schools offer softball.
Find out about individual colleges.
Start at the source—the university’s own website. Read about academic options, social programs, campus life, and admissions standards. You can often take a virtual tour and read about current students.
Learn what current and former students have to say.
You may be able to read student blogs on the college’s official site and there are plenty of places online and in social media where you can connect.
I’m NOT a fan of some of the popular forum sites where anyone and everyone contributes their advice and opinions on college admission. After seeing wrong, misleading, and unethical posting over and over, I’ve stopped using these sites. Be cautious when you read online reviews of colleges. Just like the travel review sites, you are only getting opinions and the people with negative experiences tend to be the loudest.
Use Books & Magazines To Research Colleges
I’m not a huge fan of rankings, but I keep a copy of the recent U.S. News college edition in my office. I use it for quick reference when I want figures like admission rate, average SAT scores, etc.
I also have a shelf filled with college guides. No guide lists every school and different books present different perspectives, so it can be helpful to reference a few sources.
Read and take notes about schools that interest you. Remember the goal—“Will my student be happy and successful in this environment?”
The College Visit: The Ultimate Hands-On Research
Nothing tells you more about a school than an official visit. The more time your family spends on campus talking to admission officers, students, and faculty, the more information you will have. During campus visits, step back and allow your child to take the lead in exploring the school and asking questions.
Time, travel, and expense may limit your ability to research every college in person. Before your family makes a final decision on the college your child will attend, make at least one campus visit.
Get Expert Advice
Because your time is limited, you may want to work with a counselor or independent consultant who has visited tons of colleges. They can help match your student, his or her goals, strengths, and personality to specific schools. An expert can offer suggestions to help you get started, but ultimately your family has to decide if a school meets all the right criteria and is actually a good fit in person.
How Do I Research Colleges?
Take your time. Use the resources available to you and learn as much as you can about each school. Keep in mind some of your sources may be biased – school brochures won’t tell you the problems and the student who decided to transfer out may only tell you the negatives. Collect your facts and understand there is no perfect way to research colleges.