How To Start Your College Search

  • The college search process is the cornerstone of a successful college admission/recruiting outcome. Beginning your college search by creating a great initial list of colleges will set the tone for the entire process moving forward. Narrowing down to a small list of colleges can seem overwhelming, with around 5300 colleges in America to filter through, there are no shortage of options. There are a host of factors to consider when creating an initial list, such as: academic, logistical, financial and as well as athletic factors for aspiring athletes. This article will guide you through the first steps of the college search process including: the college finder and search tools you should be using, factors to evaluate when narrowing down your list as well as other important college search information. Later on in the process you will gain more clarity about specific schools through college visits, more research and coach conversations.

    College Finder and Search Tools 

    The best way to create an initial college list to guide you through the rest of the college search and selection process is by starting with an online college finder or college search tool. These college finder tools allow you to search and filter through all of the schools in the country based on a number of criteria such as location, setting, school size etc. There are a host of websites and companies that offer some form of college finder or college search tool. Some college search websites offer freemium tools with a free, but limited, version of a search tool and a paid but more comprehensive version of the search tool. ACA recommends that you stay away from free college finder tools as they are usually very limited in scope. As we have discussed, creating an initial college list that is a good FIT is imperative in ensuring a successful college recruiting outcome, and maximizing your college experience once recruited. Using a low quality online college finder tool to create an initial list will likely impair the quality of the list as the finder won’t factor many important criteria into the results. Proceeding through the remainder of the college search and selection process with an impaired list is a recipe for an ineffective outcome.

    Most families usually only go through this process once, so it is worth the money to ensure that the outcome of the process is successful. There are a number of paid platforms that provide a college finder or search tool as part of an overall platform that helps with the search and selection process. ACA recommends the ACA Platform not only because it is our signature platform, but also because it has the most comprehensive college search and filter tool on the market. ACA places a great deal of emphasis on considering a wide variety of important factors in the search and filter process, and the Fit First Platform allows for you to narrow colleges down to the exact Best Fit list you need. ACA also offers expert advising services to complement the Fit First Platform and to help you further evaluate each factor that should go into your initial college list decision.

    Below are some of the important factors that you need to consider when creating an initial college list.

    1. Location

    The data says that 58% of students go to college within 100 miles of their home town, and only 11% venture further than 500 miles for college. Location is an important factor in your initial college search as it really focuses on a specific set of colleges. If you would rather be close to your family, your search will only include colleges within a certain distance from them. If you don’t mind how far you are from your family and your home town then location should not be a major factor in your initial college list creation.

    2. School Size

    Students often have clear preferences when it comes to the size of a college and the environment that this creates. Some students prefer a small campus feel while others prefer larger schools. The size of the student-body population can have a significant effect on the experience of a student. Having a clear understanding of what type of environment is best suited to you will help you narrow down your list based on school size.

    3. Culture

    There are significant differences in the cultures present at different colleges, socially and academically. Some schools are more liberal, some more conservative. Some schools have a prevalent party scene, or a major Greek component, while others are more low-key. Some schools have a religious affiliation that permeates the culture of the school while others do not. Some schools have a heavy focus on academics and grades, while others are more relaxed in this regard. Culture matters, and some schools will be a better cultural fit for you than others.

    4. College Setting

    College setting is another major differentiating factor in your initial list creation. College experiences differ depending on where they are located, for instance; in a rural, urban or suburban environment. Students often prefer environments similar to those they grew up in. Evaluating what type of college setting constitutes your Best Fit will help you further narrow down your initial college list.

    5. Major & Academic Factors

    Academics and desired major might be the most important factor as you search and filter through colleges, especially for students who have a good idea of what they want to study. If a school doesn’t have your desired major, you should leave them off of your list. Likewise, you should be creating a college list from the schools that you would qualify for academically. In this regard, it is helpful to look at the accepted SAT/ACT and GPA scores located on an individual college’s website in order to ensure that you aren’t including unrealistic colleges on your initial list.

    6. Athletic Fit

    Athletic Fit is another major differentiating factor for aspiring student-athletes. You will want to look at schools that carry athletic programs that are a good fit for you. This may mean high or low-level NCAA Division I, II or III, depending on your ability and preferences. To get a better idea of where you should play read this.

    7. Financial Feasibility

    There is no way around it: college is expensive. For most families, the cost of college is the most important factor when making an initial college list as well as the final decision. In order to determine if a school is affordable, families need to take need-based aid (in this case Federal Student Aid) and merit-based aid, such as athletic and academic scholarships into account. For more additional information, visit the FAFSA website.

    There are a number of additional factors to consider and incorporate into your creation of an initial college list. For more information, sign up for one of ACA’s Individual Plans.

    Personally evaluating and thinking through these factors, and using a good college finder or college search tool will help you to form an initial Best Fit list of colleges. This will hold you in good stead as you move further along the college recruiting process from start to finish. For more information on important college recruiting topics visit the ACA College Recruiting Blog.