Finding "The One:" How to Start Your College Search

I'm the kind of person who loves options. If you're anything like me too, you like to keep as many hypothetical doors as possible as wide open as possible for as long as possible. When you start thinking about the college search process, that makes anyone who likes lots of choices immensely happy. There are thousands of colleges in the US & even more outside of it if you happen to be interested in an international education. There are schools all over, big & little, private & public, in the city & in small town. It's incredible, really, to think of the amount of places to choose from when you're considering where you'd like to go. 

So then, knowing that there are so many incredible colleges to choose from, how on earth do you get started with picking just one? That's a valid question & one that I asked myself more than once in my high school career. There are so many possibilities that it can be difficult to even begin looking for the right college fit. By the grace of God, I found my way to just the right place for me & today I'd like to share a few tips I picked up along my own college-search experience. 

Know Yourself
First things first, get to know yourself. As simple as it sounds, this is truly the only way that you'll know what kind of a college you want to attend in the first place. Ask yourself what you like, what you dislike, what keeps you entertained, & what you could see yourself doing in five years. Do you enjoy new things or are you more comfortable in what you've always known? What kind of weather is your favorite & what kind can't you stand? These sorts of basic questions provide you with a preliminary idea of college environments that would fit you well, as well as which ones to cross off your list. It's a no-brainer to forget about a school that has a quality that doesn't suit you. 

When I was deciding where to go to school, I was initially considering a huge state school back in my home state of Texas. While that might have been fun, when I examined myself I realized that didn't fit me very well at all. It was fairly close to home & I loved the idea of getting out, even out of state. I also was used to a small private Christian school for the entirety of my high school experience & I decided I would prefer to stick to the same for college: the small, private, & Christian Mississippi College. Paying attention to little things that I liked & disliked helped me make the college decision, so it's definitely crucial to actively think about that in your own life. 

Sign Up For Emails (& Old Fashioned Letters Too)
This may sound cheesy, but what better way to be first introduced to colleges? In all the emails & letters that colleges will send your way, they will try to sell themselves to you, so let them. Visit their websites & sign up to get more information. Sometimes you may even receive a phone call from universities with students or admission counselors on the other end who are willing to answer any questions you could possibly have about the school. If you're interested in a school, there is no harm in checking it out through the pamphlets & brochures it can send your way, so take colleges up on those valuable resources. 

Talk with Older Siblings/Friends
Chances are, even if you're the oldest or only kid in your family, you know someone not too much older than you who's in college—meaning that person knows all about finding the right one. If you've got an older brother, sister, or all of the above in college, you've had a front row seat to the entire college search process. That's a blessing, but go ahead & have a conversation with your sibling(s) & older friends to find out more about exactly how they made their college choice. It can be incredibly enlightening!

I'm the oldest in my family (save my twin sister who has two minutes on me, but we won't go into that). Obviously then I didn't have anyone to watch up close, but I did have several friends a year or two older than me who had plenty of advice. A lot chose a college based on financial aid; others made up their mind according to how good the program in which they were interested was (which is wonderful advice, but if you don't quite yet know what you'd like to have as a major read more here.) Bringing up the college search process in my conversations with these friends opened my eyes to new ways to consider colleges—by how they rank nationally in the program I would enter, the on-campus activities they offer, & proximity to good concerts, etc.

Take the Little Steps
Finding & choosing a college is a huge life milestone, & just like you wouldn't write a book overnight, neither should you make the college decision overnight. Talk to your guidance counselor at your high school & take note of all the application deadlines of all possible colleges. Take both the SAT & the ACT to see on which you perform better. Also look at the academic scholarship tiers at the colleges in which you're interested to see if improving your test scores by a point or so would increase your scholarship packages. 

Above all else, visit the campuses of the schools that have interested you. It can be easy to fall in love with a place on paper, but sometimes a college isn't all it seems. Pictures in brochures never do justice to a university, but on the other hand, on occasion they can be as good as it gets. You'll never know if a place feels like home until you visit it, walk around, & talk to a professor or student. If you take the little steps along the way to find the right college for you, you can visit a college campus or two during Christmas vacation, & another couple during your family's spring break road trip. Staying on top of it is worth it in the long run. 

For me, visiting the "huge state school" that I was originally thinking about really made a difference in my decision. I went & saw the campus & knew that while I could make myself at home there, it wasn't the best university for me. It was crazy to wrap my mind around that because I had been planning on going there for years. Both my parents had graduated from there & I had grown up cheering on the football team (& still do of course), but despite all that, it still wasn't for me. There truly is nothing like a college visit to help you get to know a place as best you can before you commit to moving there. 


Pray About It
Last, but certainly not least, pray about your college decision during the entire search process. Even if you have a good idea of where you want to go, give your decision over to God so that He can do with it what He will. God cares about where you'll be spending four incredible years of your life & He wants you where you can ultimately best grow in your faith. Seek God's wisdom & trust that when you faithfully make a decision, He will be beside you in it. 

Hopefully, these bits & pieces of advice will make a difference in how you go about searching for a college. Always keep in mind that when you've prayed about it & thought long & hard about it, the best college for you will be the one you pick. When you commit to a place & embrace it, it becomes the best place in the world—certainly the best place to spend the next four years of life meeting amazing people & serving the Lord.

Here's to a joyful & successful college search!