From the Trenches of the College Search Process


It is November 3rd. If you are the parent of a high school junior, there is a good chance that most, if not all of your son or daughter’s college applications will be submitted within the next 363 days! If that has caused you no small amount of panic, then fear not….I am with you in the trenches. After 24 years of helping other people’s families with the college search and application processes, I am finally now the parent of a high school junior!

My daughter Katie, now 17, was on her first “official” college visit at the College of William and Mary when she was in 7th grade. (Now, before you think I am a crazed control freak mom, understand that as an independent educational consultant, bringing my own children on college visits is an occupational hazard.) At her first visit, she was dazzled by the soft serve ice cream machines in the dining hall and the idea of having a dorm room of her own to decorate. She liked the rolling hills, acres of “free” wifi, and of course, the cute boys. After each visit, we discuss what she liked and disliked about the school and how it compared to other schools she visited. Ultimately, that process has led to her understanding of what criteria to use for her college search….small to medium student body size….Catholic (she thinks she may want to study Theology)….attractive campus….interesting study abroad opportunities.

If you are saying to yourself, “Wait! We are behind! We have not taken our junior to visit any college yet!”, fear not! There is still plenty of time. Here is a quick overview of what and when you should be doing over the course of the next 363 days:

Time Frame


November – January
  • Begin with a search – Use something like College Board’s Big Future website to generate an initial list.  You can access the link from the Resources page of my website.   (The next blog will address this in greater detail!)
  • Visit 1 or 2 college campuses.  They don’t have to be top choices for your son or daughter.  After each visit, try to better understand what your family liked and disliked about the college.  Based on that information, you can refine the search criteria.
January – May
  • Research colleges.  Check out their websites, take the virtual tours, and attend information sessions and tours whenever possible.    Most importantly….demonstrate interest!!!  (More to come about that in an upcoming blog post!)
April – September
  • Finalize your college list if possible.
  • Interview whenever possible.  (Not all schools offer interviews but if they do, don’t pass up on this opportunity.)
  • Brainstorm and draft college essay. 
August – October
  • Submit early applications (Early Action or Early Decision)

Lots more blogs to come on these steps as I survive this crazy year with all of you! If you need help with any aspect of the college search and application processes, please feel free to contact me at mpstjean@compass2college or by calling me at 855-996-9222.