Selecting a College: A Checklist Approach (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Acquiring More Information

After drawing up a list of preferred colleges, students are ready to gather information and explore their choices in depth. The more information they acquire, the more likely they will make a good decision. Making a file on each college and keeping copies of correspondence, applications, personal notes, financial aid information, and names of personal contacts and conversations with people on campus can serve as excellent sources for making the final choice.

The primary sources for gathering information on colleges include the following:

- COLLEGE CATALOGS--basic source of information about a college containing detailed information on admission procedures and policies, academic and degree requirements, costs, student life, and financial aid. Available directly from the college, or sometimes from a high school counselor, school library, or public library.

- COLLEGE REPRESENTATIVES--students may meet with representatives from colleges, such as the director of admissions and admissions officers, to obtain more information or answer individual questions.

- COLLEGE VISITS--campus visits are one of the most effective means to determine if the college is the right one (COLLEGE-BOUND DIGEST, 1983). Many colleges provide campus tours and programs which give an excellent opportunity to get a feeling of size and atmosphere. Ideally, these visits can be combined with an admissions interview.

- COLLEGE STUDENTS, FACULTY, OR RECENT ALUMNI--talking to current students is an excellent way to gather first-hand impressions and personal opinions about a college and student life. If it is not economically or geographically possible to visit the campus, the admissions office can provide names of alumni representatives who live in the student's area.

- HIGH SCHOOL COUNSELORS--as trained professionals, guidance counselors can provide invaluable information.

- PARENTS AND FRIENDS--according to a group of recent college-bound students, family and friends are one of the best sources of information about colleges (THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK, 1984). They can be a good source of information, opinions, and trustworthy advice.

- COLLEGE FAIRS/COLLEGE NIGHTS--many high school guidance offices schedule regular visits from college representatives during the senior year. College fairs are particularly helpful to those who have not had the opportunity to visit many college campuses or talk with college representatives (GUIDE TO COLLEGE IN THE MIDWEST, 1984). These fairs provide an excellent opportunity to talk to many college representatives and gather information the same day.

- COMMERCIAL GUIDEBOOKS--see section, "Using Computer Programs and Guidebooks."

Applying for Admission

The procedures for applying for admission vary from one college to another, but usually the first step is to obtain an application form from the college. This should be done as early as possible in the senior year, or at the end of the junior year if seeking early admission. Students applying for financial aid may also be required to meet early deadlines.

Filling out the application completely and carefully is very important. In addition, many colleges require a recommendation from the secondary school counselor, administrator, or teacher. It is the individual student's responsibility to file the completed application on time, meet deadline dates for submitting test scores, and file financial aid applications. The school counselor is the key resource for information on test scores, financial aid forms, deadline dates, and other particulars.

- APPLICATION FEE--most charge an application fee, usually not refundable even if the application is rejected.

- ACADEMIC RECORDS--the counselor submits a secondary school transcript or college transfer record of student courses, final grades, and test scores.

- ADMISSION TEST SCORES--for many students, the college selection process begins with the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), which is taken in the fall of the junior year. High school counselors advise students which of the college entrance tests to take--Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), American College Testing Program Test (ACT), Achievement Test (ACH), and the Advanced Placement Tests (AP)--and when to take them.

- LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION--some colleges require one or more letters of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, clergy, alumnus, or adult member of the community.

- ESSAY--a personal essay or autobiographical statement is required by some institutions, particularly four-year, private colleges (THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK, 1984).

Responding to Admission Offers

Once students have heard from all the colleges to which they have applied, it is their responsibility to send a letter of acceptance or rejection of admission offers. According to a 1980 report on undergraduate admissions policies published by the College Board, 83 percent of all college applicants can expect to be accepted by their first-choice college (THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK, 1984).

In Summary

The steps described in this fact sheet can serve students as a useful checklist for finding, selecting, and applying to college. By following these steps, students can lay the basic groundwork for a rewarding college experience.

For More Information

AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES. Hawthorne, NY: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1983.

BARRON'S GUIDE TO THE BEST, MOST POPULAR, & MOST EXCITING COLLEGES. Woodbury, NY: Barron's Educational Series., 1982.


COLLEGE-BOUND DIGEST. Northbrook, IL: Who's Who among American High School Students, 1983. ED 235 710.

Kaye, K. R. (Ed.). GUIDE TO COLLEGES IN THE MIDWEST. Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guide, 1984.

Kaye, K. R. (Ed.). GUIDE TO FOUR-YEAR COLLEGES 1985. Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guides, 1984.

McClintock, J. ONE HUNDRED COLLEGES: HOW TO CHOOSE & GET IN. NY: John Wiley, Inc., 1982. ED 224 449.

Nicholson, J.M. "A Guide to the College Guides." CHANGE, 15(1) (l983): 16-21, 46-50.

Straughn, C.T., II and B.L. Straughn, eds. LOVEJOY'S COLLEGE GUIDE. NY: Monarch Press, 1985.


THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK 1984-85. New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1984.

THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE COLLEGES. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1981.

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