If you are a high school junior (or the parent of a high school junior) you are probably starting to investigate schools.  While exciting, this can seem like an overwhelming step.  How do you identify schools where you will be happy? How many schools should you look at, and when should you visit? Here are some tips to help you start your college search.

1.             Think about your favorite high school classes. 

Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to study in college, identifying your favorite classes and thinking about why you have enjoyed them can help you find the right academic environment.  For instance, do you prefer small discussions or larger classes where you can be anonymous?  Does a certain type of teaching style appeal to you? Look for schools that offer a compatible academic setting. Of course, if you do have some idea about what subjects you want to study you can start to look at schools that specialize in the field. In addition, please think about your favorite extracurricular activities and explore what’s available at each school.

2.             Consult a variety of sources.

Talk to friends who are in college, your guidance counselor and favorite teachers, parents, mentors, etc.  Ask them about their college search and how they liked their school.  There are also some great online resources as well as helpful college guides, all of which can give you a snapshot to help you start your investigation.  I like the Fiske Guide to Colleges and the US News College Navigator.

3.             Visit as many schools as you can.

There is really no substitute for setting foot on campus, especially early in the process when you are trying to figure out where you feel most comfortable.  Check out the cafeterias, look at dorm rooms, talk to students with similar interests, sit in on class and explore the surrounding community – in addition to taking a tour and attending an information session. If possible, visit while school is in session so that you can get a realistic feel for the campus community.

4.             It’s ok to like a variety of settings.

Some students have very fixed parameters, and only want a large school in a city, or a small one close to home.  That’s perfectly ok, but it’s also fine to feel like you could thrive in a variety of settings.  You may like different schools for different reasons – so, at this point, I suggest looking at a broad range of possibilities.

Exploring colleges can be fun and exciting, and is the first step towards finding the best fit for you.


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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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