If you are beginning your college search, you may be overwhelmed by the fact that there are nearly 4,000 colleges in the country to consider for a visit. While this may sound overwhelming at first, I think it's mostly very exciting. There are so many possibilities all over the country. If you start visiting colleges earlier, you will be able to see more options before you must actually apply to schools during senior year. You may be wondering where to begin (both literally and figuratively). Here are some tips:
1. Don’t get caught up in “name brand” schools; visit schools just to learn as much as you can about what it means to attend college. Visiting a city school, a rural school, a small private school and a big state school will give you a sense of the vastly different offerings around the country. Do not visit Ivy League institutions simply because they have prestigious names. Even though it might be fun to tell your friends you visited X prestigious college, if that school probably will not accept you, your time may be better spent at other schools. First of all, the acceptance rates at these schools are relatively low, and they typically do not track demonstrated interest. At least in the beginning of your college visit process, you should try not to visit top tier schools that are reaches even for the strongest students.
2. It may sound odd, but I think that your first visits should include at least three colleges to which you do NOT think you will actually apply. My mom and I did this during my sophomore year in high school, and I learned so much from those schools despite the fact that they did not end up on my final list. You are not too young as a 10th grader to decide whether or not you want a city school or small school. Here’s why: if you are lucky enough to have visited colleges early in this process (maybe in 10th grade), your attitude and grades may shift a lot before you actually apply during your senior year. Who knows where you will actually apply, but at least visiting a broad variety of different types of schools will inform you of what you want and don’t want in a school.
3. You should also visit schools that you are likely to get accepted to (“likely schools”) early in your search. A huge stress in the college process is the fear of not getting into any colleges. It would be great if you can visit schools that are a notch or two below your academic tier because if you happen to love one or two of them, you’ve just found the likely schools for your college list. It is a huge relief to know (or feel fairly confident) that a school you love will hopefully accept you. Even if you do not get into the most challenging schools on your list, you will give yourself great options by visiting other institutions. More than that, you have reduced a ton of stress. Imagine falling in love with a couple of likely schools and not having to worry about if you will get into college—instead being fairly certain you will receive an acceptance offer to a school you love. You’ll not only feel confident that you will be accepted to a college, but that it will be a college high on your list. Also, you may even qualify for merit money at likely schools.
It is very common for students to set their hopes on one specific “dream” school. However, if you remember that you need to find only a few colleges that will likely accept you out of the nearly 4,000 to choose from, it turns the college process from highly stressful to far more enjoyable. Out of 4,000 schools, it can be a relatively manageable task to find 10 that you absolutely love. Have fun with your visits.