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10 tips to simplify the college search process

College Search

10 tips to simplify the college search process

The college search process is often stressful for students entering their senior year. As an enrollment advisor in Gannon’s Office of Admissions, I’m here to share a few tips that can make the admissions experience relatively stress-free.

1. Start visiting colleges early.

Visiting schools in person is the best way to get a sense for different campus environments. The summer breaks before your junior and senior years can be great times to plan visits when you aren’t as busy with academics, athletics and extracurricular activities. There is also less risk of weather-related travel stress. Just keep in mind that many schools will be much quieter in the summer and it’s a good idea to revisit your top-choice schools during your senior year. Overnight visits are especially good opportunities to try out being a student.

2. Prepare questions.

Consider the academic, social and financial factors of college that are most important to you and be sure to ask a few good questions at each college visit. To be really organized, prepare a chart that compares the answers you received at your different colleges of interest.

3. Write thank you notes.

Very few people write thank you notes anymore. For this reason, a handwritten thank you note will really make you stand out from the crowd. Write a note to any faculty or staff members you talked with at length during your campus visits. If you think this is too old-fashioned, at least consider writing some thank you emails.

4. Take both the ACT and SAT.

These two standardized tests have different content and formats, so some students will find that they perform much better on one or the other. Most colleges will accept both ACT and SAT scores and take the higher one, but it’s great to have the two sets of scores in case you run across different regional test preferences.

5. Take the tests early.

Everyone hates standardized tests, but taking both the ACT and SAT early in your junior year and giving yourself time to retake them before applying to your dream school gives you the chance to optimize your results. It can be costly to take tests multiple times, but improved scores can often provide you with increased merit-based financial aid that will benefit you in the long run.

6. Attend college fairs.

College representatives will often travel long distances to attend college fairs, so try to take advantage of these convenient and information-rich opportunities. This is another great chance to ask key questions and to maybe discover some interesting schools that you hadn’t already heard about.

7. Utilize address labels.

When you attend college fairs, bring printed address labels that include the following info:

  • Full name
  • Street address
  • Home phone/cell phone/email
  • High school currently attending and graduation year
  • Intended major or field of interest
  • Gender (especially if it isn’t particularly obvious from your name)
  • Other options: sports/activities/interests, high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores, preferred contact method, fun fact

This simple preparation will allow you to spend less time filling out inquiry cards and more time talking with college admission representatives. Additionally, handwriting seems to be regressing in the computer age, so typed information is more likely to be saved error-free.

8. Prepare and review your personal statement.

Spend some time thinking about stories that paint a picture of who you are and what’s important to you. Write down a collection of your ideas and try to develop a few into one-page essays. Ask family members and English teachers to look over your writing and provide feedback.  If you find out about a quickly approaching deadline, you’ll be happy you put in the effort early and have a quality piece to tweak and submit to your college of interest.

9. Communicate.

You are at a point in your life where it’s important to start demonstrating initiative. Even if your parents are willing to make calls and send emails on your behalf, communicating for yourself shows more maturity. Check in with your admissions representatives periodically and after you apply make sure the colleges have received your application materials.

10. Make decisions.

Don’t be afraid to make hard decisions. After investing time and energy in the college search process, it can be difficult to ultimately commit to one school. Weigh your options. Chances are, wherever you choose, you will end up having an interesting, fun, and formative college experience.

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