How to begin a college search


If your student will start their college search soon, they might be feeling a little overwhelmed. There are literally thousands of colleges and universities out there. And even if they’re staying in state, there may still be dozens of schools for them to choose from.

Where do they begin? Here are three ways your student can start narrowing down a seemingly infinite list of colleges to something more manageable.

Search by college

If your student has a few colleges in mind that interest them, they can start there. And even if they are not necessarily interested in any particular colleges, there are probably at least a few that they’ve heard about (maybe the local college in your city or the big state university) that they can start with.

Search by majors offered

Maybe your student doesn’t know where they want to go to college, but they know exactly what they want to major in. They can start searching their subject of interest to see which schools offer degree programs and which have the best programs in that field.

Search by location

If your student knows where they want to study, they can search by location. Maybe they know they want to stay in state — that takes out-of-state colleges out of the running. Or perhaps you live in a cold climate and your student wants to study where it’s warm. They can start searching for colleges in states with a sunny climate.

Can't decide on a major yet

What if your student still isn’t sure? It’s okay if none of these approaches work for your student and they’re still not sure where to start. Encourage them to talk to their high school peers about what colleges they are looking into and why. Their high school guidance counselor should also have resources to help them start narrowing it down. If your student knows a college student, they might pick that student’s brain about how they conducted their college search and what led them to choose their current college. And a college compilation book, such as The Princeton Review’s Best 387 Colleges or the Fiske Guide to Colleges, can offer a bird’s-eye look at hundreds of schools.

You can help them, too, by asking lots of questions as they start figuring out what they’re looking for in a college. Try questions like:

  • Are you looking for a big school with lots of opportunities or a smaller school with more one-on-one attention?

  • Do you want to conduct research while in college?

  • You may not know what you want to major in, but what are some of your interests?

College search tools

So your student has started answering some of these questions, but how do they actually begin searching in earnest? After all, browsing dozens of college websites is time-consuming work and they’re already busy with high school.

Encourage them to check out these 10 college search tools. Your student can filter their results by several different factors to help them narrow it down to a group of colleges that may be right for them. Pretty soon they’ll have a manageable list of colleges they can start really digging into, and from those they have a great chance of finding the perfect college for them.