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How do I start researching colleges?

QUESTION: I am a junior in high school this year. I know that I have a bit of time before I decide on what college to attend, but I have started researching and am confused. What are some tips to help with researching colleges? Signed, Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed and Confused: It can be overwhelming to think that you have only one chance to make the right decision about which college to attend, especially when there are more than 3,000 possibilities. But instead of getting worked up over the number of possibilities, start in a single place, with yourself. Ask where you'd like to see yourself after graduating, what you may want to study and in what kind of environment you'd like to study.

Next, get the colleges' perspective on what it's like to be a student there. Look at college Web sites, read their brochures and read their profiles in college directory books. Get a sense of how strong their programs are in the areas that you are interested in, who the professors are and what special programs they offer.

As important if not moreso is the viewpoint of college students. If you can, visit some college campuses so that you can ask the students there what campus life is really like. They will tell the truth about how much interaction there is with professors, how crowded the housing really is or what students do for fun.

Also, speak with your parents and others who are close to you. Ask their advice because they may see a side of you that even you may not recognize. For example, one student we know is Jewish and has been active in the Jewish community. While she said that attending a school with a significant Jewish population is not important to her, her mother suggested that she would probably appreciate a Hillel on campus and an active Jewish organization so that she could continue her involvement. The student thought about it and agreed. The point is that your parents may see something that you miss.

Finally, end with yourself. You know yourself best and you are the one who will spend the next four years at the college. After examining your priorities, conducting research, visiting campuses and speaking with your parents, you'll see that some colleges rise to the top of your list. Trust your instincts about what is right for you.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.