Where Do I Begin?



If you’re a junior, or even a sophomore, in high school, chances are you’ve thought about college a few times. But it’s overwhelming to start the college planning process. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling:

Where do I want to be?

Seems like a simple enough question, right? Start broadly. Do you want to be on the East Coast, the West Coast? In the middle? In the south? As you do searches on College Board or Naviance, narrow down the general geographical area each time you search. Some more specific questions you should consider are: Do you want to be in a big city like New York, LA or Boston? Do you want to be near a city but not in it? Do you want to be out in the country?

When thinking about where you want to be, there are some aspects to consider. If you go far from home, transportation costs will be higher. For example, when I was the Director of College Counseling at a small school on the coast of Maine, I had a student who went to University of Southern California. He and his family had to consider the cost of getting him to and from college and he only came home at Christmas and for the summer. During the other school breaks, he had to stay in California. That worked for him but make sure it will work for you and your family. If you live in a large city, say New York, you may end up having higher housing costs. And then there’s the distraction factor. There’s a lot going on in New York all the time. It’s easy to blow off an assignment when something fun is happening in the city. The flip side of that, though, is that there are lots of opportunities in a large city. Internships are more likely and options for delving into your interests abound. If you’re an avid outdoors person, you may want to consider what is available near you. If you love to ski, being in the Midwest or Florida may not be the best choice for you.

What size school do I want to go to?

Do you want to go to a very small (1000 students or less) school? Do you want want a medium-sized school that has 2500-5000 students or maybe a large school that has well over 15,000 students?

There are advantages and disadvantages to each. If you come from a small, rural high school, chances are you are ready to go to a larger school. However, that can be overwhelming. I went to a small high school in a town of fewer than 2000 residents. In my first year of college, I was in a biology class that had over 500 students in it. That was larger than my high school! It took me a little while to find my footing and navigate the university that had 10,000 students. The advantage was that I met a lot of new people who had very different backgrounds than I did. In smaller colleges, it’s easier to connect with people. You see the same students every day; the professors know you by name; and it feels much more personal. Maybe you want a little more anonymity than that.

What kind of school do I want?

Do you want a liberal arts school? A large research university that has many different tracks like engineering, education, business? A tech school that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math? An art school?
Maybe you’re not sure yet. As you think more where your interests lie, this part will come together. To help you figure this out, start thinking about what interests you. What is your favorite subject in high school. More importantly, why is it your favorite subject? What is your favorite class so far? What was it about the class that you liked? The teacher? The subject matter? Start writing some of this down to refer to later. If you love art and have taken a lot of art classes, start saving your pieces in order to create a portfolio. Many colleges accept a portfolio as part of your application even if you’re not going to study art. It’s another way the admissions offices get to know you.

What next?

Now that you’ve thought about this, try doing some searches on College Board or Naviance. Put in different parameters to come up with different lists of colleges. Try not to narrow it down too much (you won’t get enough results) but don’t make it so broad that you get 2000 colleges on your results list. Once you have a list of 20-40 colleges, look through it. There will be schools on there that you know. But there will be colleges you’ve never heard of, too. Pick two or three that you’re not familiar with and research them. Go to their websites and look at the majors they offer. Look at the activities that students do. See if there’s a Facebook page. There are a lot of schools out there that you’ve never heard of but would be great fits for you. It just takes a little time and research to find them.