I can't lie to you — I'm definitely that kid who's been researching colleges since middle school. And genuinely, it can be one of my favorite things to do. Sure, the idea of writing countless admissions essays isn't the most exciting thought, but that's a problem for senior year. Right now, junior year is our moment to have fun fantasizing about our perfect college experience at our dream school!
However, with more than 4,000 recognized colleges in America alone, even knowing where to begin can be a daunting prospect. But that's where this article has your back — welcome to my 5 top tips for getting your college search off the ground!
1. The College Board's Big Future College Search
The College Board's Big Future College Search is by far one of the best ways to kickstart your college search, without making everything seem overwhelming. All you have to do is input your preferences when looking for a college (think location, size, housing, extra-curriculars, financial aid), and the search will filter the list of available colleges down to what matches your selections.
Personally, I was left with around 35 schools that suited my preferences — a very manageable number to research online. Having already wasted a lot of time looking at schools that didn't match my needs (such as lacking the right financial aid/scholarship provisions), I can't recommend the Big Future search enough for those of you with no idea where to start your search.
2. Virtual Tours and Information Sessions
Everything's gone virtual in today's world, and information sessions are no exception. If anything, however, I would argue that this is a gift to juniors looking to start their college search. With most on-site tours halted until further notice, colleges have had to step up their game with their virtual offerings, and, as a result, the vast majority of schools are now offering online information sessions and tours practically every day (with many even student-led or department specific!).
That said, most talks will require booking ahead of time, and can last anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours, so if you are interested in attending, make sure you don't leave it until the last minute, especially if it's a school far from your hometown that you normally wouldn't be able to experience, whether virtual or on-campus. Turn these unexpected circumstances into a positive — you don't even need to leave your house to feel transported onto campus!
3. Street View on Google Maps
It may sound strange at first, but using the Street View feature on Google Maps can be hugely valuable if you want to know more about a college's location. For example, whilst you may love the idea of attending college in LA, the likes of UCLA and USC will give you very different experiences of the city, and they have very different immediate surroundings — something that may not be immediately apparent when looking at the schools virtually.
Whilst I'm not trying to claim that Street View will equal the actual value of visiting a college in-person, it will give you the chance to safely 'see' the parts of the campus, for better or worse, not shown in the glossy college brochures and on the homepage of the website.
4. 'A Day in The Life of ...'
Being a college vlogger has become a niche of its own in recent years, and pretty much every time I open YouTube these days, at least one college vlog, Q&A or advice video will appear. Most of these videos will be pretty unfiltered, giving you a genuine insight into what it is like to attend a particular university, helping you see what the culture and atmosphere may be like.
Of course, one student's experience will not reflect the entire student body, but YouTube and social media can still be of great value in your college search to help you gain wider understanding. And if you have questions you want to ask students directly, the comments section of a college vlogger's videos may be an easy place to start!
5. Stay Excited By Your Options
Whilst this is not necessarily a top tip to help navigate your search, I feel it is an important reminder to bear in mind as you begin your college search. Choosing a college should be exciting, and the freedom that comes with it should be equally exciting, which is something that can easily be forgotten.
At the end of the day, regardless of where you end up, you'll be happy ... so don't stress too much over the process; enjoy the ride — we'll all be college graduates starting our first jobs before we know it!