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Starting Your College Search: A Spring Guide for Juniors

Authored By: 
Krista Sergi, Director of College Guidance

Even though the first college applications deadline won’t come around until about mid-October, now is the perfect time to start thinking about college. Spring break is right around the corner, and it’s a great opportunity to take the time to visit colleges in-person or virtually. But how do you visit colleges if you have no idea what you want to major in or where you want to study? Well, this is the guide for you.

Step 1: Brainstorm the Basics

In order to decide where to start looking, first answer the following questions:

  • What is my geographic range? I always tell my students to think in terms of hours away from home as opposed to selecting certain states, because that could unintentionally knock out great schools before they even see them. For example, within a four-hour drive of Beekman here in New York City, students can visit colleges in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. As a lifelong New Jersian, it pains me when my students say “not Jersey,” because that knocks out Princeton and Rutgers. So again, I urge you to think about hours away instead of selecting states.
  • Do I want to be at a small, medium, or large college? This is a big one. In this case, I tell my students to think about this in terms of relationships with professors and overall independence. In general, larger colleges will give students more independence, but that also comes with less academic oversight. Meeting with an advisor and getting to know your professors at a large school can be challenging. Smaller colleges definitely offer a little more TLC in the “helping you find your way” department, but some students find having a smaller, more tight-knit campus overwhelming. It’s extremely important to think about this, as it can help focus your list.
  • What type of institution should I attend? The beauty of the college system is that there really is a college for everyone, and one way to think about this is the type of institution you want to attend. While there are more categories than this, colleges generally break down into Liberal Arts Institutions (like the name, you will study a little bit of everything in addition to your major), Institutes of Technology (students focus more on tech than the humanities), Research Institutions (I think of these as being in between Liberal Arts and Tech Institutes, where students will study core curriculum and then focus deeply on their major), and Art Institutes (where students focus mainly on the arts).
  • Do I have any special considerations? Are you an artist, sports-person, engineer, etc? Is religion important to you? Race? Gender? As I said earlier, there is a school for everyone, so ask yourself if there is anything you value that is a deal breaker in terms of what you need at a college or the kind of community you’re seeking.

Step 2: Utilize College Board Big Future: http://https://collegesearch.collegeboard.org/home

College Board Big Future’s “College Search” tool is actually my go-to for helping students with their list. To use it, just insert your parameters (these include distance, possible major, how difficult it is to get in, etc.) and it will create a list for you! From there, you can start deciding what schools to start visiting.

Step 3: Plan a Virtual or In-Person Visit

Visiting colleges virtually and in-person is so useful for a variety of reasons; the most obvious of these is that students get to learn about the colleges. Another hidden benefit of attending these events is that it begins the process of “demonstrated interest.” Colleges track how many times applicants interact with them, so attending tours and info sessions shows the colleges that you’re interested.

So how do you set these tours and info sessions up? Students laugh when I tell them this, but in order to figure out how/when to visit, I literally Google it. For example, if I wanted to find out if Lafayette College is running virtual info sessions, I search “Virtual Info Sessions Lafayette,” and nine times out of ten, it takes me right to a calendar of virtual events. The same goes for on-campus tours and info sessions, but in that case, I either go to the “Visit” page for colleges, or I search “In-Person Info Sessions ‘X’ College.”

Step 4: Reevaluate and Revise Your List

After you’ve visited a few colleges, you will quickly get a sense of what you like and don’t like about colleges in terms of academics and campus culture. Once students have taken this first step, we reevaluate their interests and revise their list to add schools that are more aligned with their wants and values, and take off the colleges we know won’t be good fits. From there, try to continue visiting virtually and plan a few visits for the late spring and early summer, and you will be in great shape!