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Exploring Colleges - Forming a List

By Molly Walsh -

There used to be these substantial 1000-page books with lists of colleges from every

state and their statistics. It was an incredibly overwhelming approach to the search. One

could think a college search would be easier with all the online resources, but it still

doesn’t answer the age-old question, “Where do I start?”

I took my children on college tours to gauge their desired school type. Were they

interested in a large, medium, or small school? Was the college location a factor, city or

rural? Was the architecture of the campus important? Does the school have any majors

that meet academic goals? These are all good questions to ask yourself, but they may

be tough to answer without seeing a few schools.

I got lucky; my daughter fell in love with one particular college and knew that was where

she needed to be. Fortunately, she got in. My son was a different story. The only type of

school we could rule out was an urban college. He was overwhelmed by the busyness

around a few of the schools, so it was a clear sign he needed more of a small-town

college. He ultimately found the right place for him and you will too!

College trips aren’t always accessible for a lot of families. Whether it’s a scheduling

issue or financial constraint, traveling around for tours may not be the answer.

There are many virtual tours online that I highly recommend. Colleges have done an

incredible job making their websites user-friendly. There are also planned information

sessions where you can speak to admissions counselors and current students. Always

request information from any college you may be interested in and set an informational


Start your college search by making a list. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What part of the country do I want to spend the next four years? Think about the surrounding landscape and activities you can do off campus.

  • How close do I want to be from home? Will I be able to get home for the holidays and breaks?

  • What do I want out of campus life? (Sororities and Fraternity, dorms or apartment living, parties, participation in athletics, sports events to attend, arts, or specific clubs)

  • How much will my living expenses be?

Start a spreadsheet after visiting a few schools (in-person or virtually). Include columns

for school name, location, cost, majors of interest, Greek life, athletics, GPA, and test

scores. Most importantly, include your feelings when you toured the college. Did it

speak to you in some way? What gave you the sense that this school could be the right

place for you?

Your list can be as long as you want it to be. Add schools that may be long shots,

schools you are pretty sure you can get in, and sure things. Cover all your bases. You

can delete and add colleges to your list along the way. Highlight attributes of the

colleges that mean the most to you and take note of anything negative. This is the time

for you to go for it, so enjoy the search!


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