College Search Tips

Whether you’re the first in your family to attend college or the third, the college search process is a unique experience for each student and their family. It’s an exciting and important time as you look ahead and try to find the best fit for your education journey. Before you start searching, attending college fairs, or visiting campuses, talk as a family about the process. Discuss your individual expectations, interests, goals, and potential concerns. What are the most important things you’re looking for in a school? What aspects are non-negotiable, and what features are optional? We’ve compiled a list below to help you start the conversation!

Top college features to discuss

Intended major/field of interest

While it’s important to look for schools that offer programs you are most interested in, remember, many students start college as undeclared majors and many change their major within the first two years. The college journey is about discovering your interests and future goals. Look for schools that offer various fields you may want to pursue.

College costs

Many times the final decision comes down to cost. Discuss ahead of time what your range of options are, and keep in mind that it’s never too early to start learning about and looking into financial aid opportunities. Also, look into the graduation and retention rates at your top-choice schools. Will you be more likely to graduate in four years, or six?


Discuss as a family how close or far you can look for college. What areas are you interested in living in? City? Rural? Are you looking for sunshine year-round, or can you handle seasonal changes? Don’t forget, it’s important to visit your top-choice schools so you can get a feel for the location and what each school has to offer.

Campus Environment

While many see college as a great opportunity to experience a new location or environment, it’s important to look for a campus culture you will feel comfortable in. Can you see yourself at the school? This is another great reason to visit campuses and engage with current students, faculty, and staff.


If you are an athlete interested in competing at the collegiate level, be sure to look into requirements and recruiting information for your top colleges, as well as what division each school competes within.

List of your top schools

Compile a list of your top schools and a list of the most important features you’re looking for so you can compare. Once you have your list narrowed down, start visiting campuses!

Additional items to cover

The following list offers a few additional items you may want to consider:

  • Weather
  • Clubs/activities
  • Honors program
  • Research opportunities
  • Service opportunities
  • Study abroad opportunities
  • Commuter vs. non-commuter campus
  • Living areas (campus housing)

Decide how the final decision will be reached

Some families allow their son or daughter to make the final decision, others decide together, and some say it comes down to the financial aid package. Talk together ahead of time to discuss which decision-making method is best for you and your family.

Keep communicating

The college search is just the beginning of an important transition for students and their families. Though at times the search process may seem daunting, if you keep the lines of communication open throughout the process, you’ll be on the right track! Keep in mind that your high school counselor and college admissions representatives are your allies. They are available to answer questions and help guide you and your family through the process.

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