College Series: College Research 101

I had a meeting with a parent and soon-to-be-senior that were quite unsure how to even start the college process. This is a hard question as everyone starts at different stages. Often times I see students have a supposedly clear path to college, know the school, know which dorm, know which major… the whole nine yards. While these seem to be easy students to work with, I often question what research did they do to get there. I will ask questions like, “What are the retention or placement rates of your degree program?” They look at me with a blank stare. On the other hand, I have students that truly do not know where to begin. For both of these students on the end of the spectrums, I walk them through how to do research about colleges that meet your need.

Here are some helpful tips in starting the college process, no matter the stage you are in.

1. Know  yourself.

Filling out a simple worksheet like I have below will help you start reflecting on the college process. What type of school are you looking for? Big, small, urban, rural, private, public, etc. This is a reflective process, not one your mom can do for you. Sometimes you do not know this until you start visiting campuses and seeing if the school feels like a “fit”.

2. Use internet search tools.

There are some great free college searches out there about colleges that fit your criteria (if you use the worksheet this will be even more helpful). As with any site, they are only as good as the information you put in. If you are too broad, you will receive schools that do not meet your needs; too specific and you might miss out on schools.

image credit:  leslek nowak

image credit: leslek nowak

Great sites to visit include:

For descriptions of each site and which one works well, visit

3. I know the career I want.

The student I mentioned earlier was interested in being a dietician. He wanted a good career in medicine, without having to go to medical school. He assumed this was a well paying career and would always be needed/ relevant. So when I asked him what type of major he needed for it, he did not really know. I tried using Big Future (College Board’s college search engine), under Health and Nutrition and kept coming up with nothing. So we worked backwards.  A simple Google search of “education needed for a dietician” yielded us a major in “dietetics.” From there a simple Google search of “Florida universities with undergraduate dietetics” yielded us about eight results. Presto, we now have somewhere to start with!

4. I have no idea what I want to do.

The college search is always a bit harder when you do not have a plan except to go to college. Part of the college process is helping you figure it out. I went for one major, changed three times, and went back to my original major. The great thing is, I still loved all of my classes and find I use my business skills while being in education! I would say that interior design class did teach me that was NOT my career path! If this section is you, then your research might not begin with colleges and majors but careers. Take some online career/ personality tests to determine your best career according to your likes and dislikes.

5. Visit college websites and campuses.

Once you starting seeing the same schools show up in your searches, it is time to start digging a bit deeper. Peruse their website- what are the graduation requirements for that major; what minors could go with it; what are some the internship/ research programs you can get involved in; what is the application process, etc.

6. Talk with people around you.

Start asking your friends, teachers, professionals, etc. on where they went to school and what they liked or disliked about it. Even asking them how they found their school would be informative. If talking with professionals, ask them from where are they hiring, especially it is in the field of study you into which you wish to go. This gives you an idea if a college’s program has a good reputation for a quality program.