Starting The College Search Process

[vc_text_element css_animation=””]There are more than 5,300 colleges and universities in the US alone. That jaw-dropping number can make what’s already an intimidating process even more daunting. 

…. Not to mention, you’ve got an opinionated (and likely overwhelmed) teenager to contend with. 

So, how do you begin to narrow down your search? See our tips and tools below. 

1. Pick 3-4 strategic search criteria 

Perhaps your student has fixated on one school and you have no clue why… Perhaps they have decided they want to live at the beach or that they want to go to a school with Greek life… 

Any of these reasons are good enough to consider a college or university, as long as you are able to have a frank conversation and prioritize with your student. 

We recommend thoughtfully choosing some key criteria to begin your search. Examples include: 

Average class size. 

Considerations: If a class doesn’t take attendance, will my student still show up? Will my student be OK if a teaching assistant, not a professor, is leading the class? Do they learn best through discussion? 

If they’re great at self-directing, large classes will be no problem. For learners who thrive in seminar environments and enjoy peer-to-peer discussion, small class sizes are better for accountability and engagement. 

Faculty-to-student ratio. 

Considerations: Does my student plan to conduct independent studies? Does my student hope to assist with faculty research? 

Similar to average class size, this is a great indicator of professors’ involvement on campus. Having a high faculty-student ratio is beneficial because professors will generally be more accessible. 


Considerations: How homesick do you think your teen may get? How quickly can you get to them, or they get to you, if there is a crisis? What will costs be for them to travel back and forth over holiday breaks? 

This one seems obvious, but the minor details are often overlooked in favor of bigger factors like tuition, academic reputation, or athletics. 


If your student is differently abled, is their Disability Services office adequate? Are students with learning disabilities supported in and out of the classroom? 

Use third-party tools, not just the school’s website. We recommend sites like College Consensus that rank universities’ accessibility.

2. Use a faceted search tool to discover options based on the criteria you chose

Princeton Review’s College Discovery tool uses faceted searches that sort and

recommend colleges based on any of the criteria above, and much more. They provide a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of a college or university, ranging from admissions info to hidden costs to student life. They also publish lists ranking schools in various categories. Creating an account is free and is a great place to start exploring! 

3. Resist the urge to go name-brand 

Considerations: Will my student be able to get academic scholarship support? Will my student be able to have work-life balance? Will my student feel confident if they are in a high-stress, competitive academic environment? 

Every parent has fantasized about casually dropping into a conversation, “Oh, he’s heading to Harvard next year.” However, not only is it difficult to be admitted to these highly-selective and widely-known schools, it is also difficult to be a student there.

So while we’d all love to have our kids at Ivy Leagues, try to remain open-minded about lesser-known schools that can offer the same quality of education at a better value. 

4. Be honest about your limitations

Considerations: What is the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition? Will my student have to take out loans? How much will I contribute to their daily living costs while at school?

While it’s difficult to have frank conversations with your kids about money, managing their expectations is crucial. We know you want to give them the world—but making a decision that works for both students and parents wins in the long run.  

5. Remain flexible

The reality is, no matter where your student goes to school, they’ll get out what they put in. Trust that wherever they end up, your high achiever will make the best of any situation and graduate with stunning successes.[/vc_text_element]

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