Choosing a college can be daunting, especially if an applicant doesn’t know where to begin. There’s the type of college one wants to attend and deadlines to complete application forms and financial aid forms to fill out.

Lee Furbeck, director of admissions at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, and Patty Saddle, owner of The College Planning Center in South Euclid, said the process is different for each student, depending on their educational needs.

“Sometimes, the idea of starting to look and think about things regarding college can be done early on,” Saddle said. “Let’s say you’re going on a vacation and there is a college in the area. You can present the college as a day trip to just take a look at the school. It doesn’t have to be formal, you’re introducing it gradually. I do think in some ways earlier is better because it’s helpful to start exploring different types of campuses and I think everything is different. There is not a perfect time because it really depends on the student.”

Furbeck said students should reflect on what interests them, where they excel and the types of contributions they want to make in the world. 

“Meet with your guidance counselor to talk about where you see yourself, how to get there and how to keep your options open,” Furbeck said. “Selecting a college is easier when you have a better idea of your long-term goals.”

Both Saddle and Furbeck said students should take standardized tests early in case they need to take them again.

“Take the ACT or SAT for the first time no later than spring of your junior year,” Furbeck said. “Testing early gives you an opportunity to test again if you feel you can do better.”

Saddle said students should visit a number of colleges to get an idea of the type of learning environment he or she flourishes in. There are generally three types of college environments: rural, urban or suburban. 

“If they plan on going to a larger school, many students want a close relationship with their teacher, but that won’t happen there,” she said. “They need to be aware of their learning style and looking at the environment that would be best for them. They should look into their support services as well.”

Furbeck said, “Visiting colleges early in the process can help you narrow your list as you learn what factors are important to you. Ask yourself some key questions. What kind of people do you want to surround yourself with? Later or repeat visits give you an opportunity to get a more in-depth look at the student experience and help you determine which school is the best fit. Finding the answers to your questions can help you make the right selection.”

Saddle said when applying to schools, it’s best to have a minimum of six to eight schools as options. She noted what students think they want in a school may change. 

“You’re not so much applying to where you’re going, but applying to a school you think you’d be happy at,” she said. “You don’t want to plan to go anywhere you’d be unhappy at, but you also want to give yourself options. But don’t go overkill, like some students applying to 15-plus schools. By giving yourself several schools, you have options. It also allows you to financially see what you’re getting in terms of financial aid and compare that on a school to school basis.”

Furbeck said when starting the process, students should keep an open mind. She suggested students continue to work hard in school while applying.

“Set yourself up for freshman-year success in college by taking a math course your senior year that will prepare you for college-level math,” she said. “Students who take four years of college-prep math and four years of a foreign language are more successful during their first year of college because they’ve developed key critical-thinking skills and the material is fresh.”

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