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So it's time to begin your college search

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Beginning the college search is a critical part of college planning. It can be exciting but overwhelming at the same time. Choosing a college is one of the most important life decisions your child will make. Determining what your student wants most and what a college can offer will help you get started on the college exploration. Your child needs to find time to research colleges on his or her list in order to compare them and make sure they are good college choices. Remember, your child will be spending the next four years at this school. It is important to find a good match.

When you are beginning your college search, you will want to know about the following:

1. Consider the size of the school and what that means to you in terms of your learning style: class size, professors teaching undergraduate courses, lecture vs. discussion classes.

2. The location and geographic area of the school are important because different parts of the country can offer unique opportunities. Think about outdoor activities, musical events or the advantages or disadvantages of a city vs. a campus centered environment.

3. Non-academic areas of interest should be a concern for every student. College is not just about studying. Many students gain leadership experience through intramurals and activities they get involved in their 4 years of college. Extracurricular activities are also a great way to meet new people and experience new opportunities.

4. Cost of a college and the availability of financial aid have become a big concern for families. Your list should include both public and private schools. Which colleges offer the best financial aid packages or are known to provide merit scholarships based on grades and test scores

5. Most students have not decided on a major before they go to college. If you are seriously considering engineering, however, the schools you choose should probably have that as a major. If you change your mind, there should still be many other options from which to choose

6. When you begin your college search, you should look for schools that are committed to graduating their students in 4 years. Most students today are taking 5 to 6 years to get a degree. This extra year or two of school can add additional tuition and expenses that should influence your college choice.

In a recent survey, more than 2/3 of the 2012 college applicants said that they based their college admissions decisions on the advice of their friends. This is not the best way to go about things. Perhaps this is why almost 1/2 of all college freshmen last year transferred to another school. Most of them realized they had chosen their first college impulsively and for the wrong reasons. With good college planning and choosing schools for the right reasons, students have a far better chance of finding colleges that are a good fit.

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