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October 6, 2022

Top 10 Tips for Owning Your College Search

Applying to college can feel like a job on top of schoolwork and extracurricular activities. The loads of information that begin filling your mailbox and inbox can be intimidating! There is so much to remember about each school, so getting organized can help you make the best out of this end-of-high-school season. Enjoy life as a junior and senior in high school while also being prepared for the future. The Berry College admissions team has your back! Here are their top 10 tips for staying on top of the college search process.

1. Build strategies for storing physical and digital learning materials

Depending on the technology your high school uses, you may already have a place where you store finished schoolwork. This space could be as simple as a Google Drive folder associated with your school email. It could also be a digital portfolio or resume that highlights involvement and projects you are proud of. Having an organized catalog of experiences to reflect on will help you express your unique story when the time comes to fill out your college applications as a senior.

2. Organize physical and digital application materials

Once you begin the application process, you will need a separate storage space to begin drafting essays for applications and scholarships. Build folders for each school you are applying to or for the Common Application. You can also create a spreadsheet of deadlines in this space and store pictures, your resume, essay drafts, etc.

Another important part of getting organized is managing mail and email. Create a college-specific email address that helps you track your college-related messages in one place. This inbox should remain uncluttered from other personal emails or commercial marketing. It’s best practice to use this email address as the one for all your college applications.

“Students often forget that many of their high school email addresses filter out outside email that includes emails from colleges they might be applying to. You don’t want to miss messages from admissions counselors, so make sure you have an email address that will not block email from your prospective college,” encourages Trevor Ehrenheim, associate director of admissions at Berry College.

3. Collect materials for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Another time-consuming piece of the college application puzzle is preparing to submit tax information for the FAFSA. Because parents must be involved in this process unless a student is financially independent, it is important to think ahead and find out when they typically file their taxes. Here is a list of the documents required by FAFSA

  • Your social security number
  • Your parents’ social security numbers if you are a dependent student
  • Your driver’s license number if you have one
  • Your alien registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information, tax documents or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information for you (and your spouse if you are married) and for your parents if you are a dependent student: 
    • IRS Form1040
    • Foreign tax return or IRS Form 1040-NR
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia or Palau
  • Records of untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income and veterans non-education benefits for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student
  • Information on cash — savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student

Tax information can require some extra thinking, especially if your family members have changed jobs or gotten a divorce. Start asking for help early and preparing your family with the FAFSA requirements so that nothing holds you back!

4. Brainstorm what you want out of college

Once you have set up storage for reflecting on high school experiences and receiving admissions information, it’s time to start focusing your college search. If your search is too broad, you will end up with way too much information to keep organized.

Narrowing in on the right college requires some brainstorming. Are there certain areas in your life where you hope college will help you grow and mature? Are there expectations you have for your college experience? Name those expectations, and make sure they are available at each college you are considering.

An equally important question is what you are not interested in. For example, what aspect of college comes first on your list? Is being in a smaller class critical for your success, or would you thrive as easily in a larger class setting? Rank the parts of your college experience that matter most to you — every student’s list will look slightly different.

Here’s an example to get you started:

  • School’s location (urban, suburban, rural)
  • School’s overall size/population
  • Average class size
  • Particular majors or minors
  • Student life experience and opportunities for fun
  • Athletic opportunities
  • On-campus work
  • Presence of Greek life

You might learn something about yourself that you did not know when you put pen to paper about what matters most about college. You might ask others to look at your list. Are there things about college you left off the list worth considering? Spend time trying to imagine the lifestyle you hope for after college. Will certain colleges help you get where you want to go?

5. Familiarize yourself with the different kinds of visit experiences

Once you narrow in on the colleges you are interested in, begin scheduling college visits. Visiting can also be a great way to continue to cut schools on your application list. You may visit a school you think you are interested in, but once you’re there, it might have a different in-person feel. A school might be more beautiful in person, or maybe once you travel there from home, you might decide it is too far away. Leave room to let visits help you make some choices.

There are open-house events, smaller daily visits/tours, overnight stays with students and even one-on-one sessions with counselors and/or faculty members. Also, keep in mind that scholarships you’re applying for might require an interview on campus. Ask and try to keep these dates on your calendar as well.

Once you decide on the best kind of visit experience for you, map them out on a calendar during your junior and senior years of high school! Most schools have visit opportunities that correspond to major holidays and times you might already have off from school. But if it’s important for you to see student life in action, ask your admissions counselor when the college is in session.

6. Track and double-check deadlines

Once your visits are mapped out on the calendar, use it to begin tracking application and scholarship deadlines. The sooner you can submit your application materials in your senior year, the better. Applying earlier in the year ensures you are maximizing every consideration for admission and opportunity for financial aid. Want to see how Berry admissions counselors recommend scheduling junior and senior years? Check out the timeline in our Survival Guide for the College Application Process.

7. Put time in your calendar for researching and preparing application materials

Once you have all your deadlines and visits on your calendar, put in weekly two-hour appointments for drafting application materials or scheduling calls with people reviewing your materials. School schedules get busy with events, and it is likely you will be scheduling standardized testing in this season too. By holding uninterrupted time in your calendar to brainstorm and draft your essays, you will be more intentional and reflective as you work on writing the different parts of the application.

Applications are not finished in one sitting. Essay portions of applications require lengthy brainstorming sessions, outlining, drafting and revision. College essays are often pieces of open-ended, self-expression with word limits. It may sound easy to write about yourself (you are obviously an expert), but focusing on one thing you want to share can be challenging. Students often find they spend hours writing to find their real topic. Then they must cut words without losing the emphasis of the essay.

Other essay topics require answering a specific question while connecting the topic to something about yourself or tweaking a bit depending on the specific college. Students often find that, in their first essay draft, they are writing about themselves but not doing a good job of answering the question.

“You also don’t want to be the person who works really hard on a personal statement but forgets to tailor it to the right college. You would be surprised how many times we receive essays from people who forget to change the name of the college in their essay responses. It doesn’t look great when you’ve written a strong essay, but you’ve written it for a different college rather than the one where you submitted it. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of giving yourself time to pay attention to the details,” explains Cori Bradham, associate director of admissions at Berry College.

8. Communicate with your high school guidance counselor

If you are concerned or curious about the quality of your college materials, a high school guidance counselor is a valuable resource. They also bring perspective to your essays because they have a wealth of knowledge about different colleges/universities and their expectations. Do your best to draft your college materials at least a month in advance to receive feedback or talk through drafts with your counselor. Remember you are not the only student the counselor is working with! Your counselor may not be able to help with a last minute, emergency timeline. Think ahead!

9. Meet admissions counselors at the colleges/universities where you are applying

Allow admissions counselors to be more than a name in your inbox. Knowing your assigned admissions counselor at each school you are applying to can help you keep track of your process. Counselors can help you figure out if letters of recommendation have arrived or whether you are missing materials. The better they get to know you during this process, the more holistic picture they will have as they read through your admissions materials. Don’t just be a name on an application. Get to know the people who are helping to build your potential freshman college class.

10. Follow college social media accounts

For an easy glimpse into the student life experience at various institutions, check out their social media presence. What the school shares will give you a glimpse into what is important to the school. For extra credit, engage with college social media accounts if you’ve found their content meaningful or helpful along the way.

If you follow this guide, you will own your college search in no time. We have also included a summary for you to download and print out and use as a guide while you move through the process. Soon enough, you will be looking forward to move-in week of your freshman year. Make the most of this busy season by getting organized and planning ahead.



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