Deciding Which Colleges to Put on Your “Must Visit” List

Deciding Which Colleges to Put on Your "Must Visit" ListThe initial step of a long journey for current high school juniors is to put together a list of colleges they might like to attend. Since the possibilities are enormous, this can be a challenging proposition. One activity that helps narrow the list to a manageable few is to schedule campus visits. With winter or spring breaks coming up, students may want to talk to their parents about taking some trips to get an up-close and in-person view of the strongest candidates.

Campus visits can be very helpful in narrowing choices, gathering information, and getting a feel for the campus. In general, there are three types of colleges you should consider applying to in the fall – dream, target, and safety. The target schools are those that fit most of your criteria, and where you are most likely to be accepted. They are also likely to be the schools which have costs in line with what your family expects to pay for college.

Dream schools might seem like they are out of reach, but they still have some type of appeal to you because of their reputation, location, academic programs, or campus environment. They might be a little on the expensive side, but it is still possible that you can get accepted and receive sufficient financial aid to afford going there. The safety schools are those which are most likely to accept you, and that you will probably be able to afford. These might be schools with campuses close to your home town, or public universities in states which offer a high amount of tuition assistance.

With all of this in mind, how do you go about the business of choosing which campuses to visit? Here are a few tips that can help you narrow down the list to a practical few:

• Think about the cost of attending: Figuring out how much you are going to pay for college might seem like it is a long way down the road, but it can be helpful to do some rough calculations now. Take a close look at the websites of the colleges on your list and try to determine what the average student pays after financial aid is taken into consideration. You might be surprised to find that one of your dream schools is actually more affordable than some of the target schools on your list. Add in factors like cost of travel and living expenses, and then have an honest discussion with your parents about how much they can really afford to pay to send you to college.

• Find more ways to pay for college: You might have a few schools in mind, but they seem out of reach financially for your family. Look into ways that you might be able to make those schools more affordable. If the cost of travel is too high, search for ways to lower those expenses. If the campus is in a city, try to find out how current students keep their daily expenses low. Look for scholarships and opportunities to earn money that might provide the necessary extra impetus you need to reach a particular financial level.

• Talk to people: You are not the first person to ever apply to college. Look for social media pages of the colleges you want to attend and talk to some of the current students about how they are making ends meet. Find out what it realistically costs to attend this school, so that you will know whether it should be a target or a dream.

In the end, you will probably have at least two target schools and one dream school that will be worth the cost of taking a closer look. Once you have the list and have made travel plans with your parents, be prepared to get the most out of each campus visit by putting together a list of questions to ask professors, students, admissions, and financial aid. It might seem like a lot of work now, but finding the schools that could be right for you will make applying to college much easier.