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    Make The College Search Less Painful
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    It’s Sunday afternoon and your extended family has arrived for dinner. You know the dreaded question is coming, but maybe this time you can avoid it. Not a chance! Your grandmother swoops in before the front door is closed and asks, “So, where are you applying for college?” Sound familiar? To make the college search less painful, here are a few easy steps to help you get on track to finding the perfect school.

    Many Catholic high school students think the college search is so overwhelming they do not know where to begin. For a moment, let’s forget about all the viewbooks, websites, letters and pamphlets flooding toward you. Instead, begin with a look at you. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down what you like and dislike, which subjects interest you and which don’t, and then consider the activities at which you excel.

    Now, move on to a higher level of questions. How do you learn best – through listening, discussing, reading or doing? Do you like small or large groups of people? Would you prefer to live in the country, the city or somewhere in between? Take the questions and answers to your parents and to the guidance counselor at your private school and talk with them about what it means. Likely, they will help you decide how your answers translate to colleges and universities around the nation.

    Sometimes, even this part of the process can seem daunting. You probably have friends who knew what they wanted to do since the day they were born. But if that does not describe you, that’s okay. Find a time when you will not be interrupted. Now, imagine you are on the campus of your perfect school. Do not worry about the college or university name; just imagine you are walking around the campus. Now, you have arrived at your favorite class. Consider what the subject is, what your classmates are doing and what the professor is doing. Finally, you have made it to Saturday on campus. It is a beautiful day – what are you doing? Where on campus are you spending your free time? What is on the schedule for later at night? These questions do not need specific answers, just general ideas. For example, your perfect college Saturday night could be hanging out with your friends or going to a restaurant that serves a kind of food you have never tried.

    Likely this vision of your perfect college experience will help you answer the basic questions you need to start your school search. If you imagine yourself walking through a green campus to historic buildings, you should look for a rural campus. But if you see yourself on a sidewalk heading into a high rise-style dorm, an urban campus may be better. Take the notes from this exercise to your parents and your high school guidance counselor and they will help you narrow down the kind of schools you should consider.

    Once you have spoken with the guidance counselor, start going through the mail about colleges you have been receiving and brochures or websites from the schools your counselor suggested. Try to get a feel for the school by flipping through the viewbooks; this is the time to rely on your instincts for a decision. Sort the information into three piles – yes, absolutely not and maybe. When you are done, go back through the “maybe” pile and try to put them in the “yes” or “no” piles.

    >From the final “yes” pile, you should narrow your choices down to 10 or so possibilities for further research. The schools should have most of your desired characteristics and should have a realistic possibility of acceptance. While you can, and should, include some exclusive schools, you also need a group that will likely accept you. Your guidance counselor will help you decipher each school’s requirements and whether the school will be within your range.

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