Finding (the Right) Four-Year School For You

U.S. Map with hundreds of locations marked

Choosing Your College

There are a lot of schools out there (literally, thousands): the following is meant to help prospective college students know just what to look for in their college search, and point them in the direction of resources they can use to narrow down the field. If you'd ever like help finding more specific information, please feel free to ask a librarian!

The College Search Process

Step 1: Know Your Timeframe How much time do you have to undertake a college search? Assuming that you intend to start college in the fall of your graduation year, it's best to start looking at colleges by about the middle of your junior year of high school; most colleges' early admission deadlines would be around October or November of your senior year, and final admission deadlines are often in February or March. (Applying early is not necessary, but sometimes helps your odds of admission and/or makes you eligible for more financial aid opportunities.) Try to leave yourself enough time to be thorough in your search. Step 2: Know What You Want from Your College Alright, so you've decided on a 4-year college (and if you're not actually sure, consider revisiting our starter questions). Now that you know that, it's time to further define what you'd like to get out of your college experience. Do you know exactly what major you'd like? Are you excited to go to a sprawling school in a big city, or will something small and quiet suit you better? What's the overall cost to attend that you and your family can manage? Are study abroad and/or internship opportunities important to you? Take some time to picture your ideal college experience, and jot down the parts that define that picture. If you'd like a little more help, a list of the factors most commonly important to students can be found here. Step 3: Narrow Your Options Two great sources for finding schools are the ACT College Search and the College Board College Search. The ACT Search narrows your search by 6 different factors, and the College Board site uses 10 factors; try using fewer factors if you don't have a definite idea about what sort of school you'd like, or try both sites and compare results. After your search, you should be able to compile a list of several possible colleges based on the factors that are most important to you. Step 4: Research Your Top Picks Once you have a handful of schools to look into, work on getting a feel for what they're like. Visit each school's website; you can dive into the academic and faculty information, view recent student work and activity, and get a glimpse at what organizations and social events are offered. (Website-browsing is especially useful if you know what you'd like to major in!) If you'd like to compare schools or are looking for more of a summary of each, try the following review sites:
You can also research schools in college review books (we always have some recent ones available at the library). Just be wary of most college 'ranking' systems, as they may not always be ranking schools on the factors that would matter most for you, and are usually incomplete pictures. Step 5: Get Personal Once you've done your research and have a small list of schools you're very interested in, try to arrange a campus visit (see tips for effective campus visits here), meet with a representative, talk with past or current students of the school, or take similar steps. Make sure you can meet with someone and ask questions to a real person — even if just over the phone or Skype! Remember, at this stage in the game, you're looking for a good fit with you, so even very good schools might have to be rejected because they don't offer quite what you're looking for. Don't be afraid to ask questions, get to know what the experience would be like for you and what your outlook would be like after graduation, and don't get too hung up on not attending a big-name school if something less well-known will suit you better. (And on the other hand, don't get hung up on attending a small school if the big-name university is a better fit!)   Best of luck in finding your perfect-fit school, and remember that help with campus visitsmajors, and the admission process can also be found here!

Frances Banta Waggoner Community Library

Facebook Pagelike Widget