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The ultimate cheat sheet on finding the right college



House hunting reality TV shows make me want to scream.  Couples rarely pick the house I liked best, they all have insanely high budgets, and they lose their minds over the smallest things.   “They only had two ferns beside the gigantic pool?! It’s clearly a 3-fern pool!  This house is DEFINITELY out.”

Like buying a home, starting your college search can seem a little overwhelming.  You, however, are entitled to only two freak-out moments—no more, regardless how you feel about our fern placement.  Don’t worry; there are a few steps that you can take early in the process to ensure that you’re able to find the right fit.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but reality house-hunting TV shows may provide a good starting point.  If you watch these shows, you know that they do usually get one (and possibly only one) thing right: these people know what they want!  Every episode begins with a list of “must haves” and that list guides their search.  As you start your college search, it’s not a bad idea to…

1.    Create your college wish list. 

This list isn’t going to be like the lists created for House Hunters. In fact, you should probably not include things like stainless steel appliances or granite countertops—although, the Kentucky Street Apartments on WKU’s Bowling Green campus do have those amenities. This list is your chance to think about the things that will make your college experience the best possible and put them onto a single list.  Is your heart set on a larger university with a smaller school feel?  Write it down!  Do you want to attend a school with an active and large athletics program?  List it!  Are you planning to double major in Chinese and Mathematical Economics with a concentration in actuarial science?  Well, brainiac, you better make sure that you’re looking for schools that offer those programs.  This list of “must haves” can help guide your initial college planning and help you to…

2.    Develop a short list of colleges that you’re considering.

With over 4,000 options for higher education in the United States, you might find several that have many of the things you’re looking for.  Start building a list of those schools, and begin to reach out to people who may be able to tell you a little more about that school.  Call on neighbors who may be alums, and friends of friends who attended there.  Fair warning: alumni are pretty biased—If they had a good experience, they’ll all say, “Oh! The College-I-graduated-from is AMAZING!  You’d love it!”  When you start hearing that, push back and ask them why it’s great; what made their experience unique?  Sometimes the best insights about a college experience comes from the follow-up questions.

College websites are also a great resource.  Institutions post a lot of information on their website, and you can pretty quickly find things like admission requirements, cost, and degrees offered.  During this phase of the search you may come across opportunities that you didn’t know existed.  If you found out that a school offers something that you simply must have (sailboat rentals, for example), feel free to go back and edit your list of must-haves!  It’s your list, change it as much as you want!  (You probably figured out by now that I’m going to plug WKU shamelessly, where possible.  The reference to sailboat rentals above was very intentional.)  While you’re on the site, it’s also a good idea to go ahead and…

 3.    Request more information.

Here’ the thing about colleges:  we love to send information.  We’ll send you event invitations, share information about majors you’re interested in, and we’ll even email you on your birthday!  (No, we don’t include money in a card like Grandma does, but Grandma probably doesn’t have Big Red on speed dial, does she?)  Requesting information is easy, and it’s a great way to learn a lot about a college.  As you continue to narrow your list of colleges down, just simply unsubscribe from communications from the colleges you’re no longer considering.  After you’ve got a manageable list of about 3-5 schools, it’s time to…

 4.    Visit campus!

Let’s go back to that House Hunters example.  Couples on this show never just look at pictures on the internet and then buy a house over the phone.  Instead, they visit.  They critique.  They weigh their options, and see which one “feels right.”  You have the chance to do the same when picking a college!  You’re not just choosing a college, you’re choosing a home and joining a family.  Before, during, and after campus visits, it’s also really important that you…

 5.    Connect with as many people at the university as possible.

Great buildings and beautiful landscaping are good things to have, but that’s only a small part of what defines a college.  Your student experience will be largely defined by the people of that institution, and it’s the people who form a school’s personality.  You should try and talk to as many people connected to a university as possible when choosing a school.  Yes, that’s allowed!  Ask current students about their experience. Talk to potential professors and find out how engaged they’ll be in your education.  Connect with your admissions counselor to make sure you know when all the deadlines are.  Consult with a financial aid representative about ways to pay for college.   Discussions with multiple people across campus will help give you a better idea of a college’s persona and can help ensure that you find the right fit.  (Insider-advice can also really help with tips like shortcuts around campus and the best times to grab coffee without having to wait in line.)

While these steps will certainly help you organize your college search, I’m going to let you in on a secret:  there’s no formula for choosing a college.  I’ve worked with students who chose WKU after years of in-depth research, but I’ve also seen students who knew WKU was the place for them as soon as they stepped onto campus.  Throughout the process, use your head, but listen to your gut (heart).  Take advice from everyone, but make the decision for yourself.  Understand the importance of your decision, but don’t get overwhelmed.  The college search process is probably easier than you originally thought.  And finally, for goodness’ sake, don’t base your decision solely on carpet colors.  Happy hunting!

Go Tops!

The content for this post is provided by the WKU Office of Admissions. The mission of the Western Kentucky University Office of Admissions is to recruit and admit a diverse and academically talented group of students to WKU. Central to the WKU Office of Admissions is each individual student, and the Office strives to meet students' needs efficiently and effectively to best facilitate each student's transition into higher education. The Office strives for excellence in all interactions with students and their families at every step of the application and admittance process. We’re happy to help, so feel free to contact us at (270) 745-2551 or

More than 20,000 students grace WKU’s four campus locations in Bowling Green, Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Glasgow, and Owensboro. For more than 50 years, WKU has offered courses beyond the Bowling Green campus at regional locations. WKU serves students at three regional campuses in Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, Glasgow and Owensboro. Two of the principal goals for WKU’s Regional Campuses are to provide access to higher education and to improve the quality of life in the communities they serve.

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 Last Modified 5/2/17