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The College Search Process – How should I go about it?

The search for your college fit may seem overwhelming, and you may feel like you are not prepared or don’t know where to start. It’s okay, everybody feels like that at some point. Just take a deep breath and keep reading, here is a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

When to begin:

For you to get all the information you need, it is recommended that you start researching between 12 and 18 months before the year you plan on starting college. 

Define your priorities:

It is important to get a clear idea of what you want in a college, but before you even begin to think about that, it is important that you have an open mindset. Try to not just focus on the most well-known and prestigious universities. If that is what fits you, great! But you may find that some other university experiences could also help you thrive and develop and that some other environments, majors or values could fit you better.  Being open to different possibilities is one of the most integral qualities throughout any college search process.

Now, some things to ask yourself:

  • Where do I want to study (geographical location)? Why?
  • What are my goals (personal, academic and professional) and how will each of these unis help me get there?
  • What kind of university experience do I want? This can seem like a very broad question but you can begin breaking down school choice by thinking about location, major, size, environment and social opportunities. All of these things will hugely and directly impact the experience you will have. This process of self-reflection is difficult. It takes time, but the more effort you put into this aspect of the process often results in stronger application essays and a happier experience, once enrolled at your chosen university.  
  • What would be a deal-breaker when choosing a uni?

Other things to consider:

  • Context: look at the location, surroundings (urban, rural), campus, students’ profiles, residences, etc and decide what you would prefer.
  • Academic offer: look into the majors and minors, compulsory subjects, opportunities for internships or research. professors… Some resources to help you: Subject Study Guide, What Are You Into?, What Can I Do with This Major?
  • Economic help: it is well known that funding your college education can be challenging, so always take into account the scholarships and economic help a university offers to international students.
  • Campus life: choose a university that will allow you to pursue your interest and encourage your passions. Look into the clubs and extracurriculars, sports, events, and facilities.

Finding programmes and universities:

There are several websites (College Board BigFuture, for example) that will help you filter the many universities and programs available, according to your priorities, field of study and other criteria.

Finding your FIT:

Your fit is the university in which you perfectly, well, fit. Look for a place that will allow you to pursue your interests and goal, and for a place in which you fulfill the requirements and have the characteristics of the students they are looking for.

Some tips:

  • Do some thorough research and be open to possibilities: don’t only focus on the most known and prestigious universities, there are some great places out there, where you might find that you fit perfectly.
  • Learn about the requirements: each university has its own acceptance rate and you may or may not be accepted depending on how close your profile is to what they are looking for.
  • Be familiar with each university’s web page: read their About section, their Mission statement, and their International Student Admissions. These will help you understand each university’s identity, what they value and their expectations. You should also read about their academic offers: their degrees, majors and programmes.

Creating your list:

After you have defined your priorities and researched options, you must create your college list. You could begin with up to 15 universities, but it would be better if you eventually go down to 5-10. 

To create a good and balanced list, it is recommended that your choices have a varied acceptance rate. We could divide them into three groups:

  • Safety schools: less selective universities, or whose requirements you greatly exceed. You should have about two of these.
  • Match schools: universities in which your profile fits perfectly. You fulfil all the requirements and you seem to be what they are looking for. You should have at least 3 of these.
  • Reach schools: more selective universities. You are interested in attending these but your profile could not be enough for what they are looking for. You should have 1 or 2 of this group.

I know from experience that searching for a college can feel really overwhelming. Personally, I felt that way until I began. Once you get down to it, you just have to take it little by little. I needed time to decide my priorities and to get all the information, so make sure that you start early so that you don’t have to rush anything. Once I had all my options, I just had to narrow it down a bit. As of right now, I have already made up my mind on a list and I am starting to prepare the application process. 

You now have all the information, so you can begin your own college journey. Best of luck! Just take it little by little and don’t worry, you’ll eventually get to where you need to be.

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  1. Hey! What do you mean by saying students “deal breaker while choosing a university”? Thank you!

    1. Hello! When something is a deal-breaker, that means that having/not having a specific condition is essential when making your final decision. For example, my deal-breaker was that I wanted to go to a university with a good International Relations program, regardless of the ranking of the university in other regards.

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