The College List, Part II – 6 Research Tips to Help you Pinpoint the Best “Fit” Schools

Congratulations! If you are reading this, you probably already have a preliminary college list. So, what comes next? Research, research, more research…and a college visit.

Before you begin your research, construct a Word document, for the purposes of recording pertinent information about each school. The form should include the criteria that are most important to you. Headings might include:

  • Name of College/University
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Regional Admissions Representative
  • Application Username and Password
  • Deadlines
  • Admission Requirements
  • Possible Majors
  • Core Requirements
  • Average SAT/ACT scores
  • Average GPA
  • Student Activity Options
  • Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate
  • Costs and Financial Aid
  • Pros and Cons
  • Career Guidance
  • Visit Schedule and Other Contacts (like professors or current students).

Then print out several forms and begin your research. Some of this research can be conducted in the library, at the local bookstore, on your home computer, and of course, on the college campus.

If you are on the mailing list for all of the schools on your college list, then you should be receiving their literature in the mail. Make sure you read it. While all of these college brochures tend to look alike, you should get an idea of what each school wants to highlight and what they feel is important in the admissions process.

Here are 6 tips you can use to research your schools:

1. The Big College Handbooks 

College Board’s College HandbookThe Fiske Guide to Colleges, Princeton Review’s The Best 376 Colleges, U. S. News and World Report’s Ultimate College Guide. Read about each of the schools you are considering and note details that apply to you.

2. The Smaller College Books 

Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges, The Insider’s Guide to Colleges: Students on Campus Tell You What You Really Want to Know, The College Finder: Choose the School That’s Right For You! These books provide you with a wealth of information that is difficult to find elsewhere.

3. The College/University Websites 

When you want to get detailed information about Admissions procedures, majors, financial aid, and student life on campus, go straight to the school’s website. Besides calling Admissions, this is usually the most up-to-date information.

4. College Visits 

There is nothing more important than a college visit to help you decide if a school is right for you. It’s easy to schedule by going on the school’s college visit page. While on your visit, take the college tour, listen to the Admission Representative’s advice for applying, try to talk to other students about their experience, sample the food, sit in on a class and if possible, schedule an interview with a professor in the major of your choice. If Admissions allows interviews, try to schedule one during your visit.

5. College Fairs and Admission Representative visits 

The next best thing to visiting the actual college campus is talking to people who represent the school. Your interest will be noted in your application file and it will be taken into consideration when your file is reviewed. Besides that, you can get your specific questions answered. Most of the time, the Admissions Representative you meet at a College Fair, or at your school, is the representative that will be reviewing your application file first. Try to make a good impression if you can.

6. Other useful websites – Provides discussion boards with experts as well as students (now Chegg) – Allows students to showcase themselves to Admissions and learn about schools, at the same time – Provides detailed college planning, SAT/AP test information, and more – Maintains a list of colleges/universities that do not require SAT/ACT test scores – Provides statistics on all schools and education, in general – College rankings and educational articles.

Your final college list should include “safe, match, and reach” schools. You want a balanced list that includes schools that fit your interests and schools you would be proud to attend. Remember, you are thinking about spending the next four years of your life away from home. Doing your research now is integral to having a successful college experience in the future.