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As their junior year of high school approaches, students begin to carefully consider options for higher education. Should they attend a college in state or head out-of-state?

For students approaching the application process, Sherman C. Dean II, director of admissions at Hiram College in Hiram, and Elad Granot, dean at Ashland University’s Dauch College of Business and Economics in Ashland, said students should start by researching institutions to see which ones offer what.

“The No. 1 thing is to be research intensive when thinking about applications,” Granot said. “Applying blindly in wide brush stokes is not a good idea. Do your research and do a bit of a deeper dive into the subset of colleges you’re thinking about. Start with large campuses. Are you looking for urban or rural? Liberal arts? What is the general direction you want to go? Once you know that, you can start narrowing it down. The biggest question is always what you want to do.”

Dean explained the internet easily provides pertinent information, and during the pandemic, more information may be available online because college visits are less likely. In Ohio, he said there are more than 50 small- to medium-sized schools. By adding large state schools into the equation like The University of Akron, Bowling Green State University and The Ohio State University, as well as community colleges, students have many options. That can be overwhelming, he noted.

“I always tell students to sit down, take some time to research and think about what they want to major in,” Dean said. “Some of them might know and some might not, and that is fine. But, if you have a particular passion, look for those types of things. If you have secondary interests, look for schools that have those intertwined.”

Both professionals said the process should start around spring of the junior year. Though each student is different, they’d want to start early to avoid having to rush.

“I kind of equate it to how students study,” Dean noted. “Let’s say student A may be the type to study a week before a test, and student B, studies a lot and reads hard for two days and then there is always that student who kind of like flies by the seat of their pants and just listens in class. It’s a personal kind of thing that takes their personality and process into account. And the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to get on campuses (due to pandemic restrictions).”

Granot explained the Common App, which is an undergraduate college admission application students can use to apply to more than 800 member colleges and universities around the world, has allowed students to reduce the time it takes to apply. He suggested students use any saved time to seek advice.

“Start asking around, listening and going to open houses, whether that is online or in your area,” he said. “Speak to people and if you have siblings, ask them too. But, I wouldn’t do it last minute as the academic landscape has gotten so much more competitive.”

Even with all of the advanced preparation in the world, students will likely feel the heat during the application process.

“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed,” Granot said. “Students need to take it in context as it is an ever-flowing amount of information coming their way. As as soon as you come to any website, you’re going to be bombarded by academic marketing efforts. It’s a competitive landscape, not just for students but for universities as well.”

Once students have a handful of colleges they’re interested in applying to, Dean said they should narrow it to about three schools by looking at photos, videos and information about the campus, speaking to someone in admissions and talking to someone in their field of interest. It also doesn’t hurt to talk to a student too, he added.

“The students are going to tell you everything ugly about the school,” he said. “They need to hear all of that from a peer. If they’re playing a sport, the coach is going to situate all of the positives. So, they really need to know what the students love about the college, but also a totally unbiased opinion of their experiences there.”

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