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3 Sane Steps To Manage Your College Visits

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Aug 14, 2014 11:30:00 AM


You know you need to start building a college application list. And you really want to!—But the process of whittling down the hundreds of possible schools is overwhelming, and it feels like everyone you know wants to go to the same places. I know--I remember the bags of brochures each of my children recieved during their application processes.

Many students do not know how to build a list of schools where they are a strong candidate, relying on name recognition and schools in their area. Others commit to marathon road-trips, travelling to dozens of colleges without doing any research beforehand. Instead of getting caught up in the mayhem, here are 3 steps to find the colleges where you will be happy and successful, where your essays will make the most difference.

1. Target your visits.

Pick a city where you can visit one in each of these categories in 2-3 days time:

1. Small liberal arts college
2. Private research university
3. Top public university
4. Elite/Ivy

In New York you could visit Columbia (4), NYU (2), Macaulay Honors-CUNY (3) and drive up to Vassar or Sarah Lawrence (1). In Philadelphia, go with Penn (4), Temple (3), Lehigh or Drexel (2) and Haverford, Swarthmore or Lafayette (1). The idea of this first road trip is just to get a sense of types of placessize, location, type of communitynot specific colleges.

2. Research based on type.

Then, based on the type of colleges that resonated with you, build a list of 8-10 colleges which have the specific attributes you are looking for, both academically and personally. Consider majors, activities, size, whether you want a city or country school, Greek life or open community and everything else that is important to you. For example, if you want to do meaningful primary research as an undergrad, your best shot is a private research university.  

Use the research tools the web puts at your fingertips (;;, as well as individual college websites, Google and social media to find out as much as possible about each college on your list. Keep your notes organized (we have an organizer you can use).

3. Start a conversation.

Finally, with that list in hand, visit colleges in a much more focused way, asking questions that help you get to know each place specifically. When you find places you really like, do additional research to identify other colleges that are similar, so by September of senior year you have a list of 10-12 colleges. You should be really happy to attend all of them, and likely to be admitted to at least half.

Topics:college admission


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