Tips for the College Search

Define Expectations

  • Expenses – What is the family’s current or projected financial situation? How much tuition, room and board can the family afford? This is an excellent time to explore available financial aid, based on family income and other variables. What about the expenses associated with finding a college, such as travel, entrance exams and application fees?
  • Location – What are the pros and cons of schools that are close to home or far away? Are particular locations more conducive to your student’s long-term goals? How far is too far?
  • Family Tradition – Is a family member’s alma mater being considered? Are legacy and tradition important? If so, to whom and why?
  • Self-Reflection – Does your student learn best with small or large groups? What size campus does she prefer? Does she want to live in an urban, suburban or rural setting? Is a particular region of the country more appealing or conducive to her career goals? Has she identified a major or field of study? Does she want to play a particular sport? At what level of competition (Division I, II or III)? How important is a college’s religious affiliation?

Stay Organized

  • Create a Timeline – Refer to our college planning timeline for a schedule of activities recommended for your student’s junior and senior years.
  • Make a Calendar – Know the institution’s application and financial aid deadlines, and when to expect responses from admission.
  • Compile a Checklist –  Know what items are required in the application process (transcripts, recommendations, application supplements) and how to submit them.
  • Maintain an Address Book – Gather contact information for the institution, as well as its identifying codes (for the SAT, ACT and FAFSA).
  • Keep Up with Applications – Make copies of paper application that are submitted by mail, and check the status of applications submitted online. Confirm with colleges that applications are complete.

It’s easy to get lost in the many publications that address colleges and the college search process. Choose a diverse range of sources, but don’t feel obligated to look at everything. The best resources are:

  • High School Counselors and Guidance Libraries – Counselors are familiar with the many college-guide books and sites (like The Princeton Review and Colleges That Change Lives), and they can steer your student to the most helpful publications.
  • Websites – College search sites are springing up like mushrooms, and their quality varies widely. Help your student evaluate sites to weed out the gossip from the good advice. One helpful non-commercial site is the Department of Education’s College Navigator (
  • College Materials and Admission Counselors – Students should request information (viewbooks, catalogues) from colleges of interest and talk to their admission counselors. Often, students can learn about multiple schools at events like college fairs, high school visits or area receptions. Parents are also welcome at these events.

Application Process

  • Let your student make decisions, even when it looks like she might make a mistake.
  • Choose one day a week to sit down and get an update on the process from your student. Don’t ask every day.
  • Avoid a crisis at the end of the process by making sure that your student applies to a variety of colleges. If he resists a college you think needs to be on the list, suggest that visiting or applying isn’t a commitment—it’s just an option in case others don’t work out.
  • Spend some unscheduled time exploring a campus when you visit. Don’t hesitate to start a conversation with students. They are usually very excited to share their experiences with visiting families.
  • Don’t dismiss a college due to “sticker price” on the front end. Consider the fit, and if an expensive college is a terrific fit, find out if scholarships or financial aid will make it affordable.
  • If your student applies online, she should print the acknowledgement screen that appears after a successful submission. Sometimes students fill out an entire form, but neglect to hit the “submit” button. If you find that a college has not received the online application, your printed copy of the acknowledgement form will be very helpful.
  • If you believe all application materials have been sent to a university, but your student receives a notice that something is missing, do not panic! Generally, there is a grace period during which outstanding documents can be found (if misfiled) or faxed (if they were lost in the mail).
  • Don’t believe everything you hear about parents who have “negotiated” more scholarship funds or financial aid. Generally, new information or a change in circumstances are required for additional aid to be awarded.
  • Allow the process to be one of discovery and growth for your student. If you catch yourself saying “we are applying to …” or “we are going to take the ACT…,” you will know that it is time to relinquish some control.

College Visits
Nothing helps solidify a decision about college like getting a feel for the campus. There’s no better way for your student to see whether she’ll feel comfortable with the school’s people, culture, and environment. Learn more about visiting Rhodes »