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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Colleges

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Getting into college is perhaps the most important part of the admissions process. However, deciding where to apply and ultimately attend is also important. How do you research colleges to decide which school is right for you? Here’s our step-by-step guide to looking into colleges.


Step 1: Start Early

Step 2: Spend Time Thinking About Your Needs and Wants

Step 3: Look Online

Step 4: Ask Others for Advice

Step 5: Visit Campuses

Step 6: Demonstrate Interest



Step 1: Start Early

Freshman year is not too early to start think about your college list. If you start visiting schools early, you’ll get a better sense of what type of school you’re looking for. For instance, you may think you want a large urban setting, but may discover you actually prefer a small liberal arts school after visiting enough campuses.


Give yourself time to explore. That way, you won’t have to make decisions too quickly. You’ll also be able to research thoroughly, so you don’t come across any surprises senior year—like discovering that the school’s culture is too rowdy for you—or commit to a school about which you don’t know very much.



Step 2: Spend Time Thinking About Your Needs and Wants

Don’t let anyone else, including your parents, tell you what you should want. Your personal goals are what really matter in the admissions process.


Make a preliminary list of what you’d like in a college. Check out Kick Off Your College Research This Summer with These 5 Tips for advice on coming up with your ideas. Consider factors such as location, your desired major, the size of the school, the activities it offers, and any other aspects that are important to you. Think about where you would fit in. Having fit—ensuring that your personality and values line up with the school’s—is extremely important. What kind of student body would you fit into? For instance: Are you an introvert? Do you want to be around other introverts, or would you prefer more extroverted peers?


Learn more about having fit in What Does It Mean to Fit with a College?.

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


Step 3: Look Online

Everything starts with Google. Looking online can help kick off your research. You’ll see the rankings, selectivity, and if you line up with the typical student statistics. You can also find out which schools have a good reputation for your intended major. For instance, you might search for “creative writing” to find out where you can study your art as an undergraduate.


This is a good starting point, though of course you will need to research schools on your preliminary list much more thoroughly.



Step 4: Ask Others for Advice

One of your best sources of advice is older peers who are in college. They can tell you what it’s really like to go to school at a specific college. However, remember that your experience is going to be unique to you.


You should also talk to admissions reps when they come to your high school or local college fairs. They can tell you about the kinds of students that thrive in the atmosphere and what types of courses and activities are most popular—which can help you gauge if your interests align with those of typical students. Parents and friends can be good resources, too, but ultimately, your own instincts should matter more. For instance, your parents may want you to attend a large Ivy League university, while you might prefer a more intimate, liberal arts setting. Remember that it’s your college experience, so your goals and ideas should come first.



Step 5: Visit Campuses

An ideal way to figure out if you mesh well with the culture, people, and environment of a college is by visiting the school. Go on a campus tour, attend an orientation, sit in on courses, and talk to current students to get a feel for what attending school there is really like. You can setting up most of these opportunities through the admissions office. Read How to Make the Most of a Campus Visit to find out about how visiting colleges can help you determine whether it’s a good fit.


If you can’t visit, look for other ways to research the school, such as talking to alumni, having an informational interview, and asking lots and lots of questions. Check out How Can I Figure Out a School’s Culture Without Visiting the Campus? for more ideas.



Step 6: Demonstrate Interest

Show colleges you’re interested in them by going to college fairs, talking to admissions representatives, and signing up to receive information online and by mail.


Not only does this show colleges you’re interested in them, which is important for admissions, but it will allow you to learn more about the school. Even getting a brochure can help you learn about the school’s culture—you’ll find out what they prioritize by what they choose to highlight in the collateral. You can also gain access to admissions forums to ask current students what the school is like. (If you don’t know where to find them, ask an admissions representative or current student.)



Taking Action

Research is an important aspect of the admissions process. As much as it may feel like a college is choosing you, you also need to choose a college that’s right for you. Follow these steps to make sure you know what you want and are informed about your decision about where to apply—and eventually choose to attend school.


For more information about researching colleges, read:


Don’t Visit Any Colleges Without Reading This First

How Many Colleges Should I Apply to?

Seven Tips for Creating Your College List


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.