|College Search Process When Money Matters
In the current economic downturn, families are increasingly holding off on visiting colleges until offers of admission and financial aid are in hand. If resources for the college search are limited, try this approach:
1. Find a Type, Locally
In most parts of the country, students can visit a variety of institution "types" without driving more than 2 hours from home. I recommend that all students conduct a "template tour" to start the search.
2. Create an Initial List
College Navigator and College Board offer comprehensive search tools to identify schools that match your ideal "type." Use these tools to create a list of about 30 schools to research. Try to make the list balanced based on likelihood of admission (don't include all "reach" schools). Keep your "type" in focus.
3. Use the Web to Narrow Choices
Research the schools on your initial list via the internet. For each school, read the mission statement and take a tour. Colleges are increasingly making use of social networking, so visit Facebook pages or follow colleges on twitter for a pulse on the latest on campus happenings. Then, get beyond college marketing materials and check out independently gathered student reviews through sites like Unigo. Visit a local bookstore and peruse the Fiske Guide or Princeton Review over a cup of coffee. Your research will likely yield a narrowed list of schools.
4. Let Them Come to You
Take a trip to visit schools only after you know that you've earned admission, before that time meet with representatives from a college on your home turf. Admission counselors travel extensively and are usually quite willing to set up individual meetings with prospective students. Your guidance counselor (or the college) can help you connect with students currently enrolled (or even alumni) at a school of interest.
5. Only Make Decisions with Offers In Hand
In a job search, everyone knows: without an offer, there’s nothing to decide. But, in the college search, many students lack the patience to hold off on commitment until April of senior year (which is when offers are available). Waiting for the offers can turn a “first choice” at full price into the back-up when “second place” comes with a $20,000 scholarship.