How To: Plan Your College Search

Organization tips for researching college admission, financial aid and more.

You're planning for college in all that spare time you have. Right?  No. In the real world, you've got homework to do, after-school commitments to attend, a sport or instrument to play, maybe a job and, oh yeah, a social life. So how are you supposed to keep your college search and applications on track?

"The most important thing is to be proactive," says Michelle Rogers, an admission counselor at Saint Louis University. "It's a daunting process, and every school does things differently, but that doesn't mean that it has to be frustrating." So where to start?

Organize Your College Search 

If you're still a few years out from college, start narrowing your choices now. Campus size and location, a university's rankings and even how much it costs to go there aren't likely to change dramatically. Research important admission deadlines and remember: it pays to be first, sometimes literally. There are often scholarships or financial aid available for people who submit college applications early. Read more about college prep by the grade.

Technology to the Rescue

Countless free apps or even Google Calendar can keep your deadlines (and the rest of your life) running right on track. Watch videos about your top colleges online, take an interactive tour or research majors and programs. 

While you're online, start a universal To-Do list. Another document should track the places you've applied, dates, and any passwords. Leave a spot for notes; there will be lots to remember after campus visits.

Get Help From Your Family

Your parents can't (and shouldn't) do everything for you, but you can ask them for their advice. How did they decide where they wanted to go to college? What do they think of your top picks? How much financial assistance can they give you? Bring a parent, grandparent or sibling on your college visits. Fill them in on crucial admission deadlines so they can put reminders on their own calendars and give you some accountability.

The College Search Takes Time

Make time for your college search by scheduling a few hours each week to work on it. First, review your calendar and To-Do list to see what deadlines and important dates are coming up. What's urgent? Then spend some time on a longer term task, like comparing majors or researching financial aid options. Break up big, daunting tasks into smaller components that are easier to manage. You'll find the perfect school for you the same way you succeed in anything else: research; ask questions; focus on your goal.

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