The college search, mapped


Merry Schlarman

Make sure you’re at the right place in your college search process with these tips.

Two words: college search. For some, this seems like a distant future. For others, it’s a nerve-wracking reality. However, for everyone looking to go to college after graduation, the formidable college search is a process that isn’t just reserved for the last part of high school. Here are some tips to make everything a bit easier and guide you along the way. 



Yes, it seems a bit ridiculous to begin here. But where else will you start? Freshman year is an exciting one: your first year in high school with so many opportunities to try new activities. The world is at your fingertips, so don’t be afraid to join that cool club, try out for that sport or audition for that musical. During freshman year, here are some things to keep in mind regarding college. 

  • Plan out your four-year schedule and how you will earn the required number of credits. 
  • Start thinking about what aspects of college appeal to you: size, location, public vs. private, athletic programs, distance from home, co-ed, areas of interest. 
  • Get involved at school — this can be truly anything that sparks your interest. One way to accomplish this is to join a lot of programs as a freshman and then narrow down to your favorites as you go. Make sure to find a healthy balance between involved and over-scheduled. 
  • Remember: it’s okay to get a B. This is true anywhere. 



Merry Schlarman

So you have your first year down — congratulations. Sophomore year might be a bit more difficult (hello, AP classes) but this is not the worst it will get. Now is the perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with standardized testing, which is usually a key element of a college application. It’s also a great time to start thinking about leadership positions in your activities: at school, at church, on a team, within a club or anywhere else. Here are some reasonable goals for sophomore year. 

  • Continue to be involved with your interests.
  • Take the PSAT.
  • Possibly take ACT or SAT just to try it for a baseline score, or to simply get comfortable with the structure of standardized testing.  
  • Try some college tours to get a basic glimpse of how they are structured and anything you like about certain colleges — this doesn’t necessarily have to be a college you want to apply to. One strategy is to look at two different schools, like a larger state school and a challenging smaller school and compare which you feel more drawn to. 
  • Create a list of colleges you want to look into and visit. 



Here it is — the year that is hallowed as the most difficult and demanding one of high school. Junior year is really the time when you are required to step it up in a lot of areas: class intensity, extracurriculars and the college search. If you can prioritize your time well and build off of the thinking you already did freshman and sophomore year, you will be able to keep yourself on track. Junior year not only emphasizes heavy college research and visits, but you will also need to take the real deal standardized tests. Here are the most important aspects to remember this year.

  • Keep a focus on grades — GPA is just as important as ACT/SAT (if not more). 
  • Research and narrow down your school list.
  • Utilize Naviance and sign up for visits at KHS. 
  • Take the SAT or ACT, and think about doing a prep class. 
  • Plan college visits that you’re interested in. It’s okay to miss a few days of school.
  • Talk to seniors/college freshmen about their experiences at college.
  • Pay attention to scholarships. 
  • Think about who can write your recommendation letters — and ask early. 



Merry Schlarman

So, you’ve made it through junior year. You still have another two semesters left. Senior year may be less intense school-wise, but it also makes up for itself with the stress of actually applying to colleges. Many counselors advise filling out Common Apps over the summer so you can focus on the more difficult applications in early fall. You can also continue to take the ACT or SAT over summer to get the score that you really want. Senior year is basically tying up loose ends while simultaneously gearing up for the next phase of your life — here are some tips on how exactly to do so. 

  • Visit more schools. It’s unrealistic to think that you will get all of your visits in junior year. 
  • Collect recommendation letters early if you haven’t already. 
  • Figure out all of the deadlines coming up: applications (Early or Regular Decision), scholarships, the FAFSA
  • Apply. Remember to fully investigate and apply to your safe schools as well as reach schools — they are just as important. 
  • Continue to earn consistent grades and participate in the activities you love. (High school is coming to a close, remember?)



  • Focus on your interests for your resume. 
  • Ask for help throughout the process — parents, guidance counselors, college counselors and teachers. 
  • Be open to schools outside the most common or popular. There are over 5,300 colleges and universities just in the United States. 
  • Use your resources: Niche, College Board and Naviance are all great resources for your search.