The College Search Process – Planning & Requirements Phase

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Time To Plan This week I am going to continue to talk about the college search process, focusing on the “Planning & Requirements” phase.  A couple weeks ago, I started a series of posts on helping your student through the college search process with a post called “Managing Your Kid’s College Search.”  Then last week, I talked about the Discovery Phase of the college search process.

This week’s topic, the Planning & Requirements Phase, builds upon the questions you and your student answered during the Discovery Phase.  This phase is all about planning out how your student will narrow in on a list of colleges to apply to.  You and your student need to figure out your college search requirements, or in other words, the things that a potential college must offer to stay “on the list”.

College Search Requirements May Include:

  • Location
  • Cost
  • Size
  • Majors Offered
  • Potential Financial Aid
  • Academic Rigor/College Selectivity
  • Sports Offered

College search requirements could also include some data points that give you a certain comfort level that a school is worth considering such as percentage of students who graduate in four years, freshman retention rates, average student:teacher ratio and more.  On the flip side, you may want to consider the college’s acceptance rate.

Michelle Kretzschmar of offers a great free tool called the 50-50 Listing that includes schools that have a 50% or better graduation rate and a 50% or better acceptance rate.

(I realize some students will be seeking out schools with a lower acceptance rate and the associated prestige factor.)

I recommend that a student go into the college search process with some basic requirements figured out, or at least some basic ideas of what he or she wants in a school.  Then, use college visits to help refine those wants further.

Start by visiting schools of different sizes and locations (rural, suburban, urban).  See if there is a strong preference for size or location.

Are there specific majors or categories of majors that a school needs to have for your student to be interested?

If your student has no idea what he or she wants to study, you may want to make having a good program for undecided students a requirement.

The Planning part of this phase goes hand-in-hand with the requirements.  It includes looking at things like:

  • How many schools can you commit to visiting?
  • When will you schedule visits?
  • The actual scheduling of the visits
  • What about visiting far away schools?  Is that doable?
  • Setting goal dates to hold your student accountable for keeping the college search process moving
  • Establishing a method for tracking everything (I recommend a college search spreadsheet)

This is where the parent usually needs to step in to help plan and organize the college search process.

This phase may last for a year or more as your student works up to college application time in the Fall of his or her senior year of high school.  Then it is on to the Execution phase of the college search process – when your student needs to start filling out applications!  We will explore how a parent can help manage that phase next week.