The process of finding the perfect college can seem overwhelming to many students and families. With so many choices, how can someone feel comfortable that they have made the right decision before investing thousands of dollars? 

Unfortunately, a college education does not guarantee success or a return on your investment of time and money. The best advice is to approach your search strategically. Taking the time during your high school years for self-reflection and research can help make the college application and selection process enjoyable, as it will help eliminate surprises.

Choosing a college is different than buying a $50,000 car, as it is an investment that will equip a student for a lifetime and cannot be traded in for a newer model every five years. 

Here are my top three tips. So, you can discover a college community that will excite you.

1) The best place to start is with yourself, as the selection of a college is very personal.

Many students make the mistake of only targeting schools based on college football teams that they have heard of or because the school is on a college ranking list.

Other influences can come from friends and family. Parents, siblings, and peers often talk about their experiences about why “The University of X” would be a perfect match. Keep in mind that they are describing their experiences. 

2) Approach your initial list of college possibilities with an open mind, then start narrowing it down through research and self-reflection.

These are just a few screening questions you can use to get started, but be sure to research and ask about the things most important to you.

🔹Would you be comfortable on a large university campus in a big city, or would a smaller college close to home be appealing?

🔹Does the college offer the majors, programs, and extracurriculars you seek? Are the students attending the college the same group of people you would like to be around?

🔹Do they have a high percentage of retention rate (the number of students that return after their first year) and do their students graduate in four years?

3) Once your college lists start forming, it is crucial to visit any college that remains on your Top 10 list.

Every school will show pictures on its website of its beautiful campus with clear blue skies, smiling students, and state-of-the-art facilities. It is beneficial to see these schools with your own eyes. Remaining focused on the things you find significant is what you will need to decide how being on each campus makes you feel.

If you take a formal tour of a campus led by a student guide, it may not be as exciting as going to a filled football stadium on game day, but it will provide you with the student experience you will need to make an informed decision.

Students have individual goals, so everyone’s journey through college is unique. The challenge is finding the best-fit college which will provide the most nurturing environment for a student to grow. Be thoughtful, intentional, and rational in your research. But also, trust your heart when a college feels so right.