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Five Things to Expect During Your College Search

A lot has been written about the logistical steps involved in applying for a college. A lot has also been written about how to choose the right one. And, finally, a lot has been written about what to expect when you get there. But what about what happens before all of that -- during the actual search part? Here’s a closer look at five things to expect during your college search.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Five Things to Expect During Your College Search

A lot has been written about the logistical steps involved in applying for a college. A lot has also been written about how to choose the right one. And, finally, a lot has been written about what to expect when you get there. But what about what happens before all of that -- during the actual search part?

Many prospective students find themselves surprised by the actual experience of looking at colleges and the degree to which the process requires both practical and emotional stamina. Here’s a closer look at five things to expect during your college search.

Young Woman and College Student

1. You’ll get to know yourself better.

It’s easy to think of the college search as outward-facing. After all, it’s largely about determining which school’s offerings best meet your needs, wants, and interests. However, there’s an oft-overlooked operating word in the previous sentence: “Your.” Before you even start looking at schools, you should look deeper at yourself. Considering questions like what’s important to you (type of school, location, living quarters, distance from home, academic programs, extracurricular options, etc.) can help you narrow down your options before you even start.

Ultimately, all comes down to determining in which environments you’re most likely to thrive. Only in adopting an inward-facing perspective will you best be prepared to identify the right college.

Harvard campus with brilliant fall foliage

2. You’ll realize that colleges are very different from one another.

We all have a vision in our mind of what college is like. Maybe it involves sitting in a massive lecture hall while an esoteric-looking professor in tweed waxes on about Schrödinger's cat. Or maybe it involves hanging out in a coffee shop enmeshed in invigorating and thought-provoking discussions with your classmates. Or maybe it even involves nightly keg parties. That’s the thing: All prospective college students have their own unique visions of what they’ll find at college.

The reality is that there’s truly no way to know -- largely because all colleges are very different from each other in both quantifiable (size, cost, teaching methods) and unquantifiable (“vibe”) ways. While research can help you get a handle on the former, there’s no sure way to know how a certain college or university will make you feel until you step foot on campus.

Find out How to Choose a College.

Students Asking Question Whilst Attending Lecture On Campus

3. You’ll learn that there’s no such thing as too many questions.

Selecting a college is a big deal. And while you can find lots of the information you’re seeking online and during campus tours, you may be left with lingering questions and concerns. Many prospective students are afraid to ask too many questions for fear of looking unprepared or uninformed. It’s important to keep in mind that no one is judging you for the questions you ask. In fact, every single person you meet on your college search will want you to ask lots of questions. Why? Because from college admissions officers to current students (an untapped repository of knowledge), they’ll all understand the importance of making an informed decision, and are on your side when it comes to choosing the right school.

Learn how to Make the Most of University Open Days.

Working overtime

4. You’ll become a master of the deadline.

You’ve probably heard the expression at one point or another telling you that something is “a marathon, not a sprint.” Well, the college search process is a marathon and a sprint -- with periodic hurdles thrown in along the way. While July and most of August may be footloose and fancy-free, the looming start of the school semester kicks off an intense year of college searching for many high school seniors. And while it may sound very exciting, it’s also a challenge to stay on top of it all.

Mapping out all of your deadlines for the year ahead is a great way to visualize the process in order to make sure nothing creeps up on you.

college

5. A lot of it’s about money.

A college education may be priceless, but at the end of the day it still has a price tag on it. And yet many students go through the college search process without giving much thought to how much a particular school will cost and how they plan to pay for it. (At the same time, of course, their parents may be agonizing over the same questions.)

Getting the issue of money on the table sooner than later can help ensure that you and your parents are on the same page. What do they plan to pay for, what can you cover yourself, and are you likely to qualify for financial aid, if necessary? Thinking of these things now can help you avoid ugly or unhappy outcomes come spring.

The start of your college search is an exhilarating time, but it can also be an overwhelming one. These five questions can help you get off to the very best start. And with that, we have one last thing to say: Ready, Set, GO!

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.