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Smart Planning

The college planning process can sometimes feel overwhelming.  So, how do you cope?  Below are ten simple things that should help you get through the process without losing your wits.



Early in the game, take a good honest look at yourself.  Ask yourself what your strengthens and limitations are.  Consider things like academic skill level, motivation for school, your ability to manage time, study habits, interpersonal skills, etc.  The chances of selecting a college that fits you are improved with increased levels of self awareness.  The best place to start is with College Grazing’s Self-Discovery Surveys.


Think about your future 

College is a pathway to your future.  So take some time to reflect on your future. What do you see yourself doing, how do you want to live, what type of career do you want, how do you define success?  Of course this will change as time moves forward, but picturing the future will help you make better college choices.


Write College Goals 

Why are you going to college?  What do you expect to get out of the experience?  How can college benefit you?  Think about these questions and then write out two to five college goals.  When you have clarified why you are going to college, you will likely make a college decision that suits you better.  See College Grazing’s Goals Survey for help.



The fact that you are ultimately responsible for your own college decision does not mean that you have to go through the search process alone.  Talk to people, pick their brains, and ask for advice and suggestions.   There is a large network of people who can help: school counselors, teachers, friends, advisors, college representatives, current college students, family, and, of course, your parents.  Take advantage of their collective experience.



Colleges may entice you with an appealing brochure or website, an influential uncle may want you to go to the college that he attended, or  you may have an image of a school that you picked up from who knows where.   But before you narrow your college list, take time to research the colleges on your radar.  Talk to people who know the school, read their websites critically, check out college reviews, and spend a little time in your school’s college and career center getting the hard facts.


Schedule your Actions

You not only have a lot of things to do, you have to do them in a timely, sequential way.  Establish a College Planning Calendar in which you jot down all the tasks that you have to get done—then do them as scheduled.


Organize the Process

As you work through the process of choosing “the perfect” college, you will find yourself in a blizzard of forms, brochures, handouts, and all kinds of other paper.  To stay on top of it all, set up a system of folders neatly labeled with appropriate headings.  Here are some possible folder headings: scholarships, finances, top schools, possible schools, things to do, tasks accomplished, essay material, recommendations, communication, reminders, etc.


Take Notes

You will likely be swamped with college planning tasks and events.  Some students find it helpful to keep a dedicated notebook in which they write down ideas, things they have done, things to do, reminders, and their reactions and feelings.  For example, after visiting a college or talking to others about one, you may find it beneficial to write down your reactions so you can return to those thoughts later.


Visit College Campuses

If at all possible, visit college campuses.  Each campus has its own “feel” and you will want to see if it fits your personal picture of campus life.  Visit schools early in the process to clarify the local, setting, size, and campus ambiance that you prefer.


Stretch Yourself

Don’t sell yourself short.  Go after your priority college choices (however, be realistic and always have your backup list) and make the effort to secure financial help.  Go after scholarships, grants, and institutional support.  Sometimes a focused effort will pay off big time.