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Whether you are applying to colleges for the first time, complementing your degree with a certificate or developing skills for a specific profession (e.g., personal trainer or chef), deciding where to apply can be one of your biggest hurdles. There are many reasons to want to go to a particular school/program, and each person has a unique mix of factors to consider. It’s no wonder that students can be stressed out about applying, even before they start to apply.

In later posts, I will go into more detail about how to decide on the best places for you to apply. In this post, I focus on the very first step: how to find potential colleges/programs.

Applying to an education opportunity is an iterative process. Different people start thinking about where to apply in different ways and can change their minds (often) about what is important.

If you don’t already know where you will apply, here are some ways you can start that list. Future Ten & Twos will go into more detail.

  • Local experiences (Part 2): considering local colleges/programs that are familiar (e.g., because you drive by them every week)
  • Word of mouth (Part 3): knowing about options because you have family, friends or advisors who attended those colleges/programs or who work there
  • Rankings (Part 4): choosing potential options based on a credible evaluation that ranks the opportunities
  • Role models or prominent people (Part 5): adding options to your potential list based on the education of successful people, athletic teams, etc. you have read or heard about or seen
  • Browsing (Part 6): finding potential options by accident or as you search for information for other reasons

If you don’t know the full name of a college/program or all of the options in a state or region of the country, Wikipedia may be a useful place to start. The “List of American Institutions of Higher Education” includes links to information about post-high school education opportunities in the U.S. and related territories. These pages might also help you find a specific college/program when you have some information (like general location) and don’t remember the full name.

Wikipedia’s List of American Institutions of Higher Education

The information on the first page organizes states by geographic region.

Once you click on the link for a specific state, you will see the institutions in that state organized into categories such as public, private, community colleges or independent, etc. (as appropriate for the state). You will also see a variety of additional information for each institution that varies and may include student size, type and location. Some state-level pages also link to state education department websites.


How are you finding out about colleges/programs?

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