If you visit The College Board’s Big Future college search site, that is the number of colleges and universities you will see: 3,960.  Now, The College Board offers one of a number of really great search tools to help narrow that number a little bit.  However, before you even get there, I think there are two critical things you can do to ensure a successful college search.

1. Don’t be overwhelmed.

Yes, there are a lot of options out there.  But that’s something to be excited about.  As the name of the site suggests, you have a “Big Future” to create.  Contrary to what some might say, there is no secret to finding the right college.

2. Be honest with yourself.

Some of the questions any good search tool is going to ask are more about your personal preference and comfort than anything else.  Recently, my colleague Amy Tiberio offered some suggestions on things to consider in order to begin narrowing the list. (link to Amy’s blog)

Once you have taken at little time to relax and reflect, you will be ready to research.

Start by finding time to connect with your Guidance Counselor or College Advisor at school.  If you are having trouble navigating some of the big-picture characteristics, Amy suggested, counselors can be a tremendous resource.  Not only are they experts on the types of colleges out there, they also know where students like you have found a fit before.  Your counselor may suggest some additional search tools he or she has access to, such as Naviance.  This particular resource is great because it allows you not only to search for colleges, but also to see how previous applicants from your high school may have fared in the application process.

There are a number of online resources out there that can help you with your college research when you aren’t able to meet with your counselor, including The College Board site I mentioned above, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search.

As you begin to narrow your list, don’t stop digging for more information.  There is an abundance of detail and data out there that can give you a better sense of what is going to be a fit for you.  The U.S. Department of Education has created a newer search tool called College Navigator, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/.  College Navigator helps you search for schools in the traditional ways, plus it can also offer you some insight into individual schools strengths and weaknesses such as retention and graduation rates.

For a more subjective point of reference, reach out to recent graduates from your high school too.  Of course, everyone’s experience is unique. But if you know some students who enrolled at colleges you are considering, ask them what they think.  Your ultimate experience can be different but sometimes hearing from a happy student can be very reassuring.

Finally, remember that, in many ways, this is a family decision.  Once you start thinking about your college options, be sure to keep the lines of communication open at home.  The college search can be a very long but also very rewarding process and it is important to have your family as your partner.

Senior Associate Dean of Admission