The College Search Process – Discovery Phase

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Questions to ask

Is it nearing time for your student to get started with the college search process?  If so, you will want to learn about the Discovery phase.

Last week, I talked about Managing Your Kid’s College Search.  This was the first in a series of articles on how parents can use some of the principles of project management to help their college-bound kids through the college search and selection process.  This week, we will focus on the Discovery phase.

The Discovery phase of a project is an information-gathering process meant to dig deep into the details of what is important for the
“customer” of the project.  In the college search process, I would equate the Discovery phase to putting definition around what your student is going to search for.  It is not the actual search, but it is work that is needed pre-search.  It is work that will put more definition around the college search process.  The first step is to define the overall goal.  In the case of the college search process, it is pretty obvious.

The overall goal of the college search process is to find the right next step for your student after high school.  Instead of rushing into looking at potential schools, there are things you and your student need to discover before actually searching for schools.

Parents – Things to Discover Before the College Search Begins

  • How much does college cost?  If this is your first child, you have probably been out of touch with the price of a college education for quite a while.  Take a look at the prices for 2-year colleges, public 4-year colleges in your state, and other options like out-of-state public colleges and private colleges.  You will be looking at “sticker prices”, so I just want to stress that there are many ways to pay less than the sticker price.
  • Will you really have to pay that much?  In order to answer this, you need to know your Expected Family Contribution or EFC.  This is what your family will be expected to pay every year for college out of pocket after financial aid eligibility has been determined.  You can get an early estimate of your EFC by going to the College Board’s EFC Calculator.  Keep in mind that this is only an estimate of your expected family contribution based on your current situation.
  • How will you meet your Expected Family Contribution?  Take a look at any college savings you currently have and calculate what you could kick in from cash flow on a regular basis.  On top of that, there is the possibility of other scholarships given directly by colleges or by outside organizations, foundations and companies.

Students – Things to Discover Before the College Search Begins

  • What are your main interests?  No, I am not saying you need to know exactly what you want to study before you start the college search process, but it will be helpful if you know a little bit about where to focus.  Do you want to look at art schools?  Are you really interested in technology?  Do you need a school with a strong program to help you decide what your major should be?
  • What type of schools are you interested in?  Based on your interests, is a 4-year college your only option?  Would a community college or a trade school be an option?  Not all students need or want four years of college.
  • How far away from home do you want to be?  This is a tough one because you may not really know the answer yet unless you have spent a significant period of time far from home.  In that case, use your gut feel on how often you think you will want to visit home.  Would you be ok waiting for the break between semesters?  If you don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other, then you may want to look at colleges all across the country.
  • How important are things outside of academics?  Are you an athlete looking to play at the college level?  If so, that will be a major factor in your college search and will make your search very different than a student just looking for a good academic fit.  Are there other extra-curricular activities that will help determine where you want to go to school like fraternities/sororities, honor societies, or strong study abroad programs?
  • What kind of academic fit do you need?  If you are a student who has excelled in the toughest classes in high school, you will probably want a similar level of academic rigor in college.  You will probably want to focus on more selective colleges or colleges with good honors programs.


Discovery is really about answering those high-level questions before investigating any specific school choices in the next phase that I call Planning & Requirements.  I will talk about that phase next week.  That’s where the college search process really begins.

1 Comment

The College Search Process - Planning & Requirements Phase | My Kid's College Choice · August 21, 2016 at 8:49 pm

[…] called “Managing Your Kid’s College Search.”  Then last week, I talked about the Discovery Phase of the college search […]

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