Question: “I’m thinking about going to college, but I don’t really know how to start looking for one — or deciding which is best for me. Can you help?”
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
I love this question because the people who ask it are in such a great period of their lives… gaining independence as they move into adulthood, searching for potential careers — and the best schools to help them achieve their dreams. (And it’s also a great time for adults who are now finally getting the chance to go — or return to — college.)
While I will give you what I think are the most important steps in choosing a college, I truly feel that you’ll know the right college for you when you see it or visit it. While you want to be challenged and inspired in college, it also has to feel right to you. College is a major investment of time and resources, so take the time to get it right.
Here’s how to find the best college for you:
Step 1: Determine what you might like to study or major in at college. You don’t need to have an answer here — many first year students are “undeclared” — but if you do have an idea, then you’ll be able to look for schools that have a program that matches your interest.
Step 2: Develop a list of criteria you want to use to evaluate and weed out colleges. There are lots of possible criteria, such as degrees offered, majors and minors, location, costs, size, quality/reputation/ranking, placement record, faculty size, and more…
Step 3: Compile a list of possible colleges and universities. There are lots of resources on and off the Web to help you develop a list of potential colleges. Check out these college planning resources.
Step 4: Gather all your resources and information about each school you’re considering. The best bet? Go to each college’s Website and gather the necessary information.
Step 5: Use the criteria from Step 2 to narrow your list of colleges to a manageable number. Get the list down to a number you and your family feel comfortable with.
Step 6: Visit the colleges on your lists from Step 5. Ideally you should visit every college on your short list, but if you can’t visit it personally, get a video or take a virtual tour.
Step 7: Apply to the schools that made the cut after the first six steps. Carefully complete all the applications and submit them to the schools. Read our article, Writing the College Application Essay.
Step 8: While you’re waiting to hear back from the colleges you applied to, start hitting the books or the Web to find scholarships (if you need them). Again, there are lots of resources on and off the Web to find scholarship information — just don’t get scammed. Check out our Scholarship and Financial Aid Resources for College and College-Bound Students.
Step 9: Make the final choice from among the schools that accepted you. Certainly the hardest choice of all… be sure to review all your notes, look at the financial aid packages, and make your final decision!
You can find all these steps discussed in greater detail in my article, Choosing a College that’s Right for You.
And you can find all the best college resources — for teens, for grad school, for distance education, and more — in our college and graduate school planning resources section of Quintessential Careers.
One final bit of wisdom. If you get to college and find it is simply not right for you, please do not be afraid of transferring to another school… you’ll have to go through a similar process, and you may lose a few credit hours, but it will be much more worth it than suffering through four years at a school where you feel you don’t belong.
This article is part of a series from The Career Doctor’s Cures & Remedies to Quintessentially Perplexing Career and Job-Hunting Ailments. Read more.
See a list of all the most common college, career, and job questions — and Dr. Hansen’s solutions.
Who is the Career Doctor? Learn more, read his current career column, or browse the column archives when you visit the Career Doctor’s homepage.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is a nationally recognized career and job-search expert. He is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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