How to Start the College Exploration Process

Applying to College, Building Your College List, College Visits, Testing

As juniors are watching seniors get college acceptances, they may be feeling some anxiety about starting their own college exploration process.

We suggest that juniors start with some self-reflection.

Is there a career you’ve dreamed about?  Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what you want to do for a living or even what you would like to major in. Think about your interests, skills, and passions. What are your favorite subjects in school?  What do you do with your spare time? What are you good at? If you’re not sure, then start even broader. Do you like numbers or words? Are you interested in current events and politics? Do you enjoy the arts? And, if you still aren’t sure, that’s okay, too. You can apply to colleges as undecided and spend your first year or more taking a variety of courses to help you discern what you like.

Also, where do you want to be while going to college? Close to home? Far from home? In an urban, suburban, or rural environment? Somewhere that is sunny and warm or has snowy winters? Do you care whether you can easily fly home to visit? Do you want to be close to an ocean or mountains?

Next, consider the actual college. Do you like the idea of a large college with lots of school spirit and a talented football team? Do you want a school that has lots of opportunities to do research or internships? Or do you prefer a small school where the classes are small and the professors will call you by name? Do you want to be able to play an intramural sport? To join a fraternity? To participate in student government? Do you crave a diverse environment or will you thrive in a more comfortable environment?

Now, you can start to look at admission requirements. Are your grades and test scores commiserate with the middle fifty percent of admitted freshmen at the schools you’re looking at?  If not, will you be able to bring your grades or test scores up this spring?  Is there anything else you can do to improve your admissibility – start crafting a really great essay, or do something impressive this summer? And, if not, then don’t worry…you’ll just have to expand your list of colleges. And the good news is that there are lots of wonderful colleges out there. Research colleges online and use search filters to find colleges that meet your preferences and credentials. Visit as many college campuses as you can. Use the college counseling resources at your high school, and, if you need more support, solicit help from an Independent College Consultant.

And, in the meantime, make use of your time before next fall’s application season by getting the best grades you can, registering and studying for the SAT or ACT, and continuing with your extracurricular activities. And, in summer make sure and find ways to be engaged….volunteer, get a job, learn to play the guitar, read a series of books by a specific author.

If you use spring and summer to reflect and engage, you will be able to come up with a list of great-fit colleges to apply to, and hopefully a year from now you will be sharing your acceptances with your younger peers and giving them a few pointers as they start their college exploration process.