1. Tweak your timing

If you’re a senior in high school, you need to start seriously thinking about colleges. You have essays to prepare, letters of recommendation to ask for, college tours to schedule, and more. If you’re only a freshman or sophomore, you shouldn’t worry about college yet, especially since your tastes and interests are bound to change in the upcoming years. Keep college in the back of your mind, but focus on having fun and doing well in high school for now. If you’re entering your junior year, feel free to start looking – but know that you have plenty of time!

2. Think about your interests

Write down what’s most important to you in the future. It’s okay if you’re still unsure about certain things in the beginning, but focus on what you know you do want now. Think about location, school size, tuition, and programs offered. Do you want to be near your family? Do you want to live in a little town or big city? Will you be paying your tuition entirely yourself or will your parents help you out? This is what will guide you as you start out your search.

3. Use your resources

That’s what we’re here for!

4. Get organized

So you have all this information swirling around in your head, now it’s time to sort it all out. “I made an Excel document that put all of the info for all of the schools I was applying to in one place: application due dates, what kind of supplemental material they required, phone numbers for admissions counselors, addresses —anything you could possibly think of was on this list,” said Lauren Biscaldi, a senior at Emerson College. Whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet, a binder of information, or notes taped up on the walls of your bedroom, organize the information. This way you can adequately compare the schools to one another, and see what you like and what you don’t.

5. Talk to your parents and teachers

Talk to anyone whose advice you trust, be it coaches, teachers, or guidance counselors. Discuss what you think you want in a school and why, as well as your fears. You may think you’re destined for a big city school but realize it’s not the right fit after you’re mom points out how much you love small towns and hate traffic and crowds. They can also connect you with people who may go to that school now, or have just graduated. It’s great to get the perspective of someone who isn’t employed by the school in order to really figure out if it might be the right fit for you.

6. Set up a meeting with your guidance counselor

As soon as you get back to school set up a meeting with your counselor to discuss where you’re at in the whole process. They’ll let you know any last minute classes you may need to take and answer any questions you have.
Meet with them on a regular basis so you’re better able to keep track of everything, because establishing a good relationship with your guidance counselor can only help you in the long run.

7. Talk with friends about college

The college admissions process can get intense, so don’t be too rattled if you find yourself competing with friends on test scores, essays, and getting accepted. If you’re not comfortable sharing certain information with friends, then let them know that when they ask you. Tell them that applying to college is stressful enough, and you’d rather just talk about something else. You want to preserve the friendship and hopefully continue it into college, so try to see the bigger picture when all your friends can talk about is their last test score.

8. Figure out your finances

Loans? Financial aid? Scholarships? Paying for college can get so complicated, but don’t get overwhelmed. Figure out how much aid you will need, which is basically subtracting the amount of attending a certain college minus your expected family contribution, which is how much you and your family can afford to pay for school. There are a variety of types of aid available, including gift-aid, loans and work-study.

9. Schedule a campus visit

What?! A visit already?! It’s not scary, and trust me, you’re ready. You’ve done your research, talked to people you know, now is the time to really see what these schools have to offer. But don’t just go in blind, prepare yourself. If you’re looking at schools near each other, schedule the visits in the same day to save time, and figure out if you’ll need to take a few days off school for your visits. This means not only scheduling a campus tour but time as well to explore the campus, read the school’s newspaper, and even sit in on a class or two.

10. Don’t forget about the present

Right now, you’re still in school, and while looking at colleges and imagining what your life will be like a year from now is exciting, don’t shrug off your daily responsibilities. You still have homework to do, practice to go to, and athletic events to attend. Enjoy high school while you still can, you may be surprised how much you miss it once you’re at college. Before you know you’ll be packing up your car and settling into your dorm, so try not to rush the end of your high school experience.

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