Starting your college search can seem daunting – like any first step toward an important goal can be. There are so many universities, so many subjects to study, and so many people talking about the complicated college application process. If you’re overwhelmed, try starting with yourself first. Once you pinpoint what you want your university experience to be like, it will be much easier to find universities that are right for you.

Ask yourself:

What do I want to study?
If you have a clear career path, you may want to consider specialized schools, like universities focused on technology, art or business, or specific programs within universities in areas like nursing, music or animation. If you are interested in humanities or fine arts, look for programs that have strong resources in your chosen area, be it a poetry center, language learning and study abroad options or institutes that support research or creative projects in your area. Are you a future social scientist? Find out what professors study in your subject. Can you get involved in research or other projects? Research might also be important to you if you want to study science, along with lab facilities and opportunities for undergraduates to get hands-on experience. If you’re undecided, identify some possible paths you might take, and make sure those are offered, while finding out about the strength of a school’s academic advising.

What are my strengths and preferences?
While you consider your academic interests and goals, you should also think about how you learn best. Are you someone who likes to listen to your teachers lecture and take notes? Do you love being surrounded by people? Maybe a larger university will suit you. Do you learn better through class discussion and group work? Do you thrive in a small community? Maybe a university with small class sizes or a liberal arts college is for you. Remember that the learning environment you join will shape your experience in college. Looking for what suits you best is a great way to narrow your search.

Where do I want to live?
Is it important for you to be near home or are you considering several areas of the US or abroad? While you’re in college to get an education, you’ll also be spending the better part of four years on and around campus. Is it important for you to be in a city or would you prefer to live outside a city or in a rural area? Are you looking for a self-contained campus or one that intersects city streets? Are there resources and services that you hope to find nearby? What about transportation options? Think about what’s important to you, and if you’re not sure, visit urban, suburban and rural campuses to better understand the differences. Starting with these simple questions will help you get started. Your answers may surprise you – and it’s okay for your priorities to shift as you research and visit schools, and talk with friends and family about the possibilities. The important part is learning to articulate your preferences, because you’re choosing a college as much as they are choosing you.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

Join an upcoming webinar
Download a resource guide