4 Steps to Get You Started on Your College Search

Written by Kathleen K. | Posted in Academic Success

College key on keyboard

While everyone knows that getting good grades, participating in extra-curricular activities, and volunteering in your community are good ideas for getting accepted to college, the one big question remains:

“Where do I want to go to college and how do I figure it out?”

Feeling Overwhelmed? Then this introductory guide to getting started on your college search is for you. We break it down into 4 steps that will help you plan well ahead of testing and application deadlines. Phew! That relieves the stress.

Dream Big!

Step 1. Start Early! Begin with the Big Picture.

Thinking about college and your future can be overwhelming. I am sure you have been told that it is never too early to start thinking and preparing for your future.  But what does that mean? Many students begin their research in the 9th grade.

This is actually a great idea.

Big Picture questions to ask yourself: 

What am I passionate about?
What am I good at?
What do I want to do for work?

  • Maybe you already know that you want to be a doctor, or an electrician. If medicine is your career direction, you will want to be researching colleges that have a strong pre-med program. If you want to be an electrician, you might search for a technical college to earn an associate degree in 2 years, or a 4-year college or university with a strong Electrical Engineering program.
  • Many students graduate from high school and don’t know what you want to do for work. No worries. In that case, colleges and universities or community and technical colleges will give you that opportunity to take a variety of courses that will help you explore many career options.

Step 2. Communicate with your Guidance Counselor and College Advisor

How to research online school options

Does your school offer assistance from a College Advisor? College Advisors are experts in all things related to college applications: from conducting research and completing the college essay to requesting recommendations and searching for scholarships. Plus, you may be able to participate in Live Virtual College Tours or Zoom Workshops.

Your College Advisor can also help you with researching college admission requirements. Many colleges have very rigorous admission criteria. It is a good idea to know what is expected early on in your high school years so that you can be sure to take the courses needed to apply to the college of your dreams.

Here is an example:

Your high school requires you to complete 3 science courses in order to graduate.
The college you have your heart set on requires 3 lab science courses plus 1 additional science.

Well……. that is important to know.

Keep your counselor and advisor informed of the colleges you are considering so that you can be sure to meet your high school graduation requirements AND meet the admissions requirements to apply for your top college choices.

Step 3. Know your goals

college sign with graduation cap


You will have to do a little soul-searching for this step, but with literally 1000’s of college choices, narrowing down the search is a good thing.

  • 4-year vs 2-year colleges – More and more students are taking advantage of the 2-year community college as a stepping-stone to the 4-year college path. Many states offer significant scholarships to community colleges, making the overall cost of higher education more feasible.

Or, you know your career path, and a 2-year school is your best option to get there.

  • Location – Do you want to be close to home so you can easily visit family and friends during school breaks? Or, do you want to go far away for the excitement and challenge of a new environment? Are you looking for a school with great outdoor adventure opportunities such as hiking in the mountains, or surfing the waves on the west coast? Are you looking for a city school that gives you great food and entertainment opportunities?
  • Size – Big school vs. small school. Will you be able to focus in a class with 300 students, or do you thrive in a smaller class of 25 where students participate in lively class discussions?
  • Cost – This is probably a good discussion to have with your parents. For some students, the cost is not a factor. However, for many, the cost is the number 1 consideration in choosing the right school. What are you prepared to pay for tuition? Are you eligible for scholarships with your outstanding grades? Have you been saving for college? Will you take student loans?
  • Social Life – Are you planning on living in a dorm or commuting to class from home? Either way, you will want to know what kinds of social activities there are on campus. Are there clubs to join, intramural sports or sororities and fraternities?

Step 4. Research, Research, Research!

college terms

Now it is time to narrow down schools that will meet your goals. Many Guidance Counselors advise their students to create a Top Choices List that includes “reach schools” (I hope I get in), “target schools” – (I am pretty sure I will get in) and “safety schools” (I know I will get in). This approach gives you will a range of schools when it comes down to making your decision. There are many sites to help you with finding a good fit, but Niche.com is hands down my favorite and here is why:

  • If I type: “colleges in the USA that offer degrees in electrical engineering” into my browser’s search bar, I find 1,340,000,000 results! Yikes! So, I tried to be more specific in my search parameters: “city colleges near Boston, MA that offer degrees in electrical engineering.” Now I am down to 56,600,000 results. Hmmm.
  • Scrolling past the advertisements, I find other sites, such as Niche.com to help me narrow this down. With these same search criteria “city colleges near Boston, MA that offer degrees in electrical engineering” Niche opens a link to 2020 Best Colleges with Electrical Engineering Technician Degrees in the Boston Area. Now we are talking. You can register with Niche and save your searches. You can also compare schools and read verified reviews. Big plus and kudos to Niche.
  • Visit the websites of the colleges that have made it to your Top Choices List. Take a virtual tour of campus to get a feel of what college life is really like.
  • Read verified reviews from reliable sources such as Niche.com.

Whitmore School, accredited by Cognia, (formerly AdvancED), offers four Diploma Programs for students wishing to enroll full-time to earn their high school diploma. The Diploma PLUS with College Advisor is recommended for students planning to attend a 4-year college or university after graduating. Click here to watch a short video about the Diploma PLUS with College Advisor Program at Whitmore School.

Additionally, students looking to get back on track to graduate on time can enroll in individual courses at Whitmore School. Students enroll and begin any time of year, work at their own pace, and may take up to 12 months to complete their course.

Click here to read more about Whitmore School’s College Readiness and Test Prep Courses and the Diploma PLUS with College Advisor Program that support students in the college search process.

Kathleen - Guidance Director

Written by: Kathleen, GuiAssistant Principal of Student and Parent Services, College Advisor


February 11, 2023 in

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