Applications University

How to Research Universities as a High School Student

If you’re starting out in the IB, chances are you’ll need to start thinking about university research soon – and while it may seem overwhelming, here are some tips to help you start coming up with a college list!

1. Start by listing criteria for your ideal college

This is the ultimate starting point for anyone trying to find a list of schools. When coming up with college criteria, think of it as if you’re planning to move to a new home. What kind of features do you want this place to have? Do you want to be in a city, or in a lush, green campus? Or perhaps a mix of both? To some people, this may seem like the ultimate deal-breaker. For others, maybe their program of choice is more valuable. If you know what you want to study, which schools are known for and strong in that major? If you have many interests, how important is it to you that your school has all of those subjects available? I personally find that by taking this first step, it makes the entire process a lot less overwhelming than it can initially appear to be. 

When the current pandemic has calmed, perhaps travel to see a few campus tours – whether they are in your hometown or you’ve flown to go visit a school far away. It will give you a better idea of which features are more important to you in a college. You never know, you might end up finding your #1 dream school while you’re on your college tours!

2. Make an organized research system

I suggest making a table or spreadsheet with the criteria that you came up with in the first step, it’ll give you a guideline as to what exactly you need to research to determine whether you like a particular college or not. I preferred to make this initial table for every school I considered applying to, just so I could get an idea if it was a university I would like to apply to. Below is an example of what this could look like:

LocationThis university is located in…
Campus typeIn a city? Rural area with no tall buildings in sight?
ProgramWhat potential majors / minors could you study here? Are there any other courses you would love to take at this university?
HousingWhat does the housing look like at this university? Which freshman dorms would you want to stay in if you went here?
Study Abroad / Internships / ActivitiesDoes this university have the additional programs/activities/opportunities you’re looking for?

While all of the above information is good for looking at preferences, it’s important not to forget about the more practical criteria! This may not be super important to you at this point in time, but as you continue in the research process, you’ll be glad you took note of this information when you did. I prefer to make a separate table for this, and I usually only make it once I’ve narrowed my list to schools I’m 90% sure that I’ll apply to. Below is what the table might look like:

WeatherHow cold / warm does it get in this location? Will you be able to cope with the weather if it is vastly different from your hometown?
CostHow much does tuition cost? Who is paying for your tuition? Can they / you afford it? If you need to take loans, what are their return policies and how much debt can you realistically take on?
ScholarshipsHow can you make your college experience less expensive? Start research early!
Admission RequirementsWhat do you need in order to get into your school (subjects, entrance exams, etc.)? Are there any additional items you need to submit for your major (portfolio, language certificates)? Make sure you know your deadlines!

3. Be realistic

I personally like splitting my university research up into 2 tables, one for schools I was considering, and another for schools I 100% knew I would apply to. That way, you can spend your time looking into schools that you’ll apply to! If you don’t enjoy looking into a particular school, chances are you won’t actually want to go there – you should be interested in where you’ll be calling home for the next few years. 

Hopefully these tips were able to give you an insight into how to start your university research. Best of luck, and be sure to look back at these tips if you get stuck along the way!


  • Read Marisa’s take on the differences between IB and university here.
  • Read Katie’s explanation of the college credit you can get from IB here.

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