Never make your final college selection without visiting at least your top two or three choices. No matter how well you think you know a college or university, you can learn a lot (good or bad) by spending a few hours on campus, including whether or not the college feels like a good “fit” for you. Having family members accompany you on college visits is a great idea because it gives you extra “eyes and ears” and people with whom you can discuss your impressions.
There are no exceptions to rule #1.
A college is not necessarily right for you because its name is familiar. That might seem pretty obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many students equate educational quality with name recognition.
Investigate at least three or four colleges you know little or nothing about but offer the field(s) of study of interest to you, are appropriately selective for a students with your grades and SAT or ACT scores, and are located in geographic areas attractive to you. You have nothing to lose and you might make a great discovery. A little research and an open mind can greatly increase the odds that you make a good college choice.
There are very few worse reasons to select a college than because your friends are going there. Choosing a college because your girlfriend or boyfriend is headed there is one of them. In fact, if there is a worse reason to choose a college, it escapes us.
Investigate, investigate, investigate, and be sure to separate reality from (often baseless) opinions. Lots of folks will refer to a college as “good”, “hard to get into”, “a party school”, “too expensive”, etc. without really knowing the facts. Don’t accept these kinds of generalizations without evidence.
Do not rule out colleges early because of cost. Many colleges offer scholarships, financial aid, and tuition installment plans that make them far more affordable than they may first appear. You can’t/won’t know how much it will cost to attend a college until the very end of the process.
Deadlines, whether for college applications, SAT or ACT registration, financial aid, scholarships, campus housing, etc. are not suggestions. Miss a deadline and you may find yourself in deep you-know-what. Write down on a calendar and adhere strictly to all deadlines.
Don’t be afraid to apply to a few “reach schools”. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results if you are not entirely unrealistic. Then, apply to at least three colleges you like which are highly likely to admit you. Remember, choose these three colleges very carefully as they are the places where you are mostly likely to wind up. Finally, choose at least two “safety” colleges. Colleges to which you are virtually certain you will be admitted. Choosing “safety” schools they don’t really like is a mistake many students make. If you take the time to choose safety schools you would be happy to attend, you’ll eliminate all the anxiety some students experience in the college application and admissions process.
When it is time to make your final choice, discuss your options with your family, your counselor (if you have one), and others who know you well and whose judgment you value. If you have a tough time choosing among two or more colleges or universities it is probably because you have done a good job putting together your list and you will be happy at whichever institution you choose. Once you make your choice, don’t agonize over it. If you have followed these rules there is an excellent chance your final college choice will be a good one.