Top tips to improve your college search

Going to college is a big step. If you have decided to pursue higher education, you’re joining the ranks of Americans who earn more and are employed at higher rates. College graduates earn significantly more than workers with only a high school diploma, and the gap between these groups continues to widen. Getting an advanced degree or certificate is important for your future, and it all starts with choosing the right school. To make the most of your college education, follow these college search tips to get off on the right foot, and to choose the right school and program for you and your career goals.


Start Your College Search Early, Right Now


Experts suggest that you start searching for college now rather than later. If you are a junior in high school, now is the time to start, but it also doesn’t hurt to start thinking about college even earlier. There are some very good reasons to access sites like Americolleges well before your senior years to start investigating colleges:


  • Early Admissions
  • If you can find your choice of college early, you can apply early. And if you can apply early, you stand a better chance of being admitted. Admissions tend to favor those who get their applications in early.


  • Search Broadly
  • Early college planning gives you the chance to do a broad search. You don’t have to settle for the school your parents or siblings went to. With time on your side you can do more research and find the school that really meets your needs.


  • Explore in Detail
  • Spend more time exploring the colleges you have on your final list. If you start looking early, you get more time to really visit and explore the colleges on your short list.


  • Less Stress
  • Starting college searches early means less stress for you and your parents. This can be a tense time, so by giving yourself more time for the search, you take off some of the pressure.


  • Targeted Scholarships
  • An early search means more opportunities for scholarships. If you’re hoping to finance some of your tuition with scholarships, knowing where you are going and what academic program you will be entering will allow you to try for more specific scholarships.



Your College Search Process Begins with a Wish List


It may not be possible to get everything you want in one school, but a great way to start an informed search is with a list of all the things you dream of for your college experience: campus size, availability of extracurricular activities, location, type of housing available, online learning options, type of degree and major, and career placement services.


Of course, a huge part of your wish list should be your future career. What do you want to do or be? What major and degree will get you there? These are important considerations and will narrow your choices down, but not everyone knows exactly what they want from the get-go. Use a site like Americolleges to find the schools that actually have programs that match your career goals and that will be a good place to start. Then, turn to your wish list to narrow the options down even more.



Listen to Your Teachers and Parents


As a young person with a goal in mind for your education, it’s not always easy to take the advice of others, but it is so important. Your parents, teachers, and other adults in your life have had more experiences than you and can give you invaluable tips. They also know you better than you may realize. For instance, if you have your heart set on a college several states away, but your parents know that you struggle when you are too far from family, they can give you some advice about staying closer to home or finding ways to cope if you do choose to travel far.


The adults in your life can also give you great practical advice on college planning with a career in mind. Sit down with your parents and go through a search site like Americolleges. You can search by career and degree type. Run through them with your parents and let them give you advice on which careers they think would suit you and in which you would find success. You don’t have to let them decide for you, but you can take their advice to heart and consider options you may not have otherwise.


Know What You Can Afford When College Planning


It’s great to dream that you have nothing holding you back, but most of us are tied to financial limitations, especially when it comes to higher education. College is expensive and any search for a college needs to take into account tuition and other costs and what you can reasonably afford. Talk to your parents and start learning more about financial aid, including Federal Student Aid. You have a lot of options for covering tuition, but you need to know what they are so you can make informed choices about your college and program.


For example, at Americolleges you can search by degree type and career, which is a great way to find programs that you can afford. For instance, if you want to be a nurse, but you don’t think you can afford four years of tuition, this search site can help you find colleges that offer two-year nursing degrees. Planning for your finances will help you make your education and dream career a reality.


In Starting College Searches, Don’t Ignore Online Options


As you whittle down your list of potential colleges, keep in mind that online schools are also an option. There are pros and cons to getting your degree online, and it isn’t right for everyone, but for you it may be the perfect solution. Online degrees are usually less expensive, for instance. They give you more flexibility to work while learning and you can typically complete a program in less time.


A reason to avoid an online degree may be if it doesn’t suit your major, something hands-on like culinary arts or nursing. If you are interested in considering online colleges, you can use Americolleges to find out which schools with the degrees that interest you offer their programs online. This search will allow you to narrow down your list to those schools that have online programs or a mix of online and campus learning so you can get exactly what you want.


Schedule Campus Tours for Your College Search


With a list that has been narrowed down to a few locations, your college search is ready to progress to the next level: really exploring each school. If you started the college search process early enough you should have plenty of time to schedule visits to campuses to explore and learn more about what it would be like to study and live there.


Make sure you do more than just a tour. Take advantage of being on campus to talk to students and even professors. Visit the department of the subject you think you may major in, talk to teachers and students, and sit in on a class. Go to the dorms and the cafeterias to really get a sense of the school before you commit to going there.


Make Use of Online Tools, Like


As you work on your search, don’t forget to use online tools that are designed to make the whole college search process easier., for instance is a really useful college planning tool. It allows you to search for your ideal colleges by several factors. If you are firm in your decision to study information technology, you can search by that career type and get a list of all your options. If location is more important to you, search by zip code to find a list of schools nearby and the programs offered. You can also narrow your search down by campus programs, online programs, or you can consider options for both.


The college search is a long and sometimes tedious process, but it is a big decision and not one that you should make without taking the time to do it right. You need to be well informed about your options, the expenses of college, financial aid, how degrees lead to careers, and intangibles like the atmosphere of a campus. In other words, searching for college is a big step that leads to an even bigger step in your life. Use online tools like to make it a little easier, and be prepared to take this next exciting step in your life.