When looking for colleges, many students choose to focus on specific aspects of schools. For example, some students choose to look at campus size, others look at academic offerings or at sports. Many college counselors will suggest you start looking at colleges junior year, or earlier if possible. It is also recommended that you visit campuses before applying.
It has been noted that anytime you apply or list colleges on official documents, place your first choice in top position. This is due to the fact that in some situations, including who you send your SAT and ACT scores to, colleges can see which schools were sent those scores and what order they were in. It’s best to have a top pick when you’re filling out paperwork so you always have a school to place first.
When going on the advised college visits, first think about if you have an intended major. If you do, then ensure first and foremost that that school has your major. If you don’t, then take a look at the major options and decide if there’s somewhere you feel you fit. For example, don’t be sold on a school if you’re hoping to be an street artist only to find out that the only majors offered are microbiology and engineering.
Next, consider your priorities. Do you want your school to have sports teams? If yes, does it need to be division 1 or can it be just club or intramural? If not, what other priorities do you have? Should the school have an attached law school? Should they have a lot of green space? Do you really like snow? Do you expect them to have a lot of prestige?
Next think about how large you want your school to be. If you work better in smaller classes in what will become your general education classes, then a small school might be for you. If you’d rather have large classes from the get and then have them get gradually get smaller, then a big school might be for you. If you want more of a night life, then a bigger school might also be for you.
Look for specialty programs. If you want to go into law or med school, or really any sort of graduate school, look for advising programs or 3+3 programs for your JD. Some schools also offer 4+1 programs for masters students. These programs will help you in the long run. Also ensure that if you’ve already chosen your intended major the programs you choose for you graduate school. Do research on your future career to see if your major fits.
If you plan to play sports in college, especially if you plan to play for their competitive teams or you expect a sports scholarship, reach out to the coaches. Let them know you exist. They can’t scout you if they don’t know who you are.
Make sure that the schools you’re looking at will take your AP credit and dual credit. Some schools won’t, or will only accept it if you have a five. Some schools will accept a three for credits. Most schools will accept dual credit, but they may have a grade expectation for you.
When SAT and ACT time comes around, check if your schools require the essay. It may be optional at some schools, but required at others. Some schools may even be test optional. But if even one school asks for the writing portion, don’t discount that school. Take the writing portion and make yourself look like a go getter. Additionally, schools like Stanford have optional subject tests. If your dream school is Stanford, take the subject tests. You’ll look like you want to go there.
When applying, make sure to check all of your essays for if you’ve changed the school name. If you used the same essay for three schools, but every single one says, “And that’s why I can’t wait to go to U of O,” it looks bad on you. Additionally, always, always, always write the optional essay on applications. It’ll make you a competitive candidate and shows the school that you’re willing to do the work required to do well.
Also at application time, check your scholarships. Many scholarships stack, meaning that they build off of each other (so if you have two $1,000 scholarships then you’d have $2,000 total), but some don’t. For example, schools in Colorado have a program called the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE). This program goes as far east as the Dakotas. It’s a discounted cost of tuition for students within the states that participate in the program, but this discount doesn’t stack with all merit scholarships. Make sure to check school’s websites and policies for whether or not their scholarships stack because it could make a difference when you’re choosing a school that is financially feasible.
On the school tours themselves, pay attention to your surroundings, take notes, and focus mostly on getting a feel for the school. Much of the information given on walking tours can be found online, but the student ambassadors are full of untapped knowledge about their school. Ask questions, even if you think they’re dumb or ridiculous. Ask about things you won’t find on the internet or don’t feel are answered adequately.
Everything comes down to doing your research. Be informed about the practices of the schools you’re applying to, know your scholarships, and don’t leave things until the last minute. This is the start to the rest of your life, so make it count.