Ask An Expert: Tips On Starting The College Search

Ask An Expert: Tips On Starting The College Search

Finding the right college can be a daunting, overwhelming and even paralyzing prospect for many students and their parents. Fortunately, most of the high schools in Connecticut have experienced, knowledgeable and friendly experts who help students navigate through the treacherous and confusing waters of the college search process. Karen Prince, chair of the Guidance Department at Region 1′s flagship Housatonic Valley Regional High School, is one of the best of those advisors, and here are five of her top tips for students and parents who are just starting their college search.

Karen Prince
Chair, Guidance Department
Housatonic Valley Regional High School
246 Warren Turnpike Road
Falls Village, CT 06031
(860) 824-5123

Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village was the first regional high school in Connecticut. It is the flagship school for Region 1, and has been since it opened in the autumn of 1939. Although far from the largest high school in the state, most of its 100 or so graduating seniors go on to college – many with the help of the chair of the Guidance Department, Karen Prince. College-bound students rely on the advice of this professional, who is now in her sixth year at the school everyone just calls “Housy.” Karen has been a high school counselor for 28 years, and 15 of those were spent as a director of school counseling. She received her masters in counseling at WestConn, and while Karen began her career in adult education, she found her true calling in helping high school students.

“Much of my time is spent working with students and the college process,” explains Prince, who admits to having “visited over 100 college campuses.” Those visits, her experience as a counselor and her work as part of the nationally recognized freshman transition program, which she helped implement at Housy in 2010, all back her well-earned claim that “I can speak knowledgeably about different schools.” So here, from an expert, are five tips for high school students on how to start searching for the right college.

Think Before Doing: Be Reflective About Who You Are

Be reflective about who you are. Spend some time thinking before doing anything else. What are your likes and dislikes? Are you comfortable with the idea of going to school far from home or do you want to stay close enough to come home on the occasional weekend? What kind of student are you? Will you work harder if you are challenged by equally bright peers or will that make you overly stressed? How about school size? Do you learn best in small classes with individual attention or are you okay with large lecture-style classes?

Students need to ask the following questions. Why do I want to go to college? It sounds simple but there are many answers to this and they’re all valid. Do I want to prepare for the career I think I want? Do I want to explore areas I’ve never had the opportunity to study? Do I want to begin a life as an independent adult, away from my parents and friends? Answers to questions like these may lead a student towards or away from certain schools. 

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Use The Internet Wisely

Use the internet wisely. It’s staggering how much information is available to you, but as in anything involving the internet, make sure you’re on a trustworthy site. Be wary of sites that ask you to pay anything. This is especially true of scholarship information. For example, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is just that – free. But there is a site with almost the same URL that looks the same until you get to the end and you’re asked for a credit card number. The best idea is to use a couple of tried-and-true sites like College Board or Naviance (if your school uses it) that allow you to save your searches so you’re not always starting from scratch. 

Don’t Wait Until Senior Year to Start Looking

Begin before senior year. Ideally you should begin senior year with a list of schools to which you intend to apply. This means starting much sooner, even as early as sophomore year. You can visit college fairs or talk to admissions reps who visit your high school. Your school counselor is a most valuable asset in the college search. We all spend time each year visiting college campuses and talking to admission representatives. We visit the dorms, eat in the dining halls and talk to students in the Student Union.

Visit, Visit, Visit – and Then Visit Some More

Visit, visit, visit. No one would buy a car without test driving it first. But students will apply, be accepted and commit to a school without stepping foot on campus. The websites and view books are marketing tools. You’ll never see a rundown dorm or overflowing dumpster on a college website. You’ll be spending the next four years of your life living at college so make sure you’re comfortable there.

Keep an Open Mind

Finally, keep an open mind. There are many great colleges that don’t appear on any magazine’s “best” list but may still be the perfect school for you.  

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at