4 Things I Would've Done Differently During My College Search

High school seniors, I salute you. As if it isn’t enough to have to worry about making the most of the little time you have left with the people you’ve spent the last four or more years with, throwing in the need to master the SAT and graduate with an impressive GPA only adds fuel to the fire.

They say that college is supposed to be a period of time filled with endless amounts of fun, growth and soul-searching. So, making a college decision is probably one of the most important decisions we’ll ever have to make, right? As my college career comes to a close, I can’t help but to think about my time as a senior in high school and everything I did (and didn’t do) to find the right school for me.

1. Went on college visits

Call me crazy, but I actually made my college decision without ever going on a single college visit. My first day setting foot on campus came after I had already agreed with a $300 security deposit to prove it. Looking back, I realize that this could have taken a turn for the disastrous and I could have realized that this wasn’t the fit for me. Luckily, I was able to find a home here––but I’ll say that, as a senior in high school, it’s important to take advantage of the time that you have and take a trip to one of your perspective schools instead of going in completely blind the way I did. That way you can get a good look at the types of people and experiences you'll be exposed to ahead of time.  

"I know that I would've ended up where I did in the end but it would've been nice to have something to compare this to," says Brittany, a senior at the University of Georgia. "I would've wanted to compare the opportunities that would be awarded to me here as opposed to other schools."

College visits play a critical role in helping you make your college decision for numerous reasons, the most important being determining if there’s a fit. With all of the online resources that give students a glimpse into life at their dream schools, it’s easy to find out everything you need to know about a school just by typing a few words into a search engine and clicking a button. But, getting a firsthand look at your future school gives you the opportunity to see everything you need to see up close and allows you to get involved with your new college community ahead of time!

RELATED: 5 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do During College Visits

2. Used my resources

I can’t remember even attempting to talk to my high school counselors to discuss college and scholarship options. It was so easy for me to completely put off applying to a school just because of the cost. Sometimes, as soon as I got a look at the numbers I instantly got discouraged. Yes, in-state tuition is a wonderful thing, but not having that option should never stop someone from applying (or going) to their dream school(s).

“I just wish I had taken the time to do my research on how to pay for school out of state,” says Sarah, a junior at the University of Georgia. “I know people who are going to better schools in other cities and they're basically paying the same amount of money as I am. I'm not exactly mad about where I ended up but, in hindsight, I wish I had looked into things a little more."

There is a lot of money out there and a lot of organizations that are willing to help students pay for school. Take a look at the scholarship opportunities that your prospective college or university has to offer and go from there. Maybe the state you live in has a unique merit-based scholarship program, like  Georgia's  HOPE Scholarship or the LIFE Scholarship in South Carolina. My advice to seniors is to utilize your high school counselors and make sure they keep you updated about scholarship opportunities, grants and where you stand in the process of your college search. It’s a tough process but you don’t have to go at it alone. Your counselors are there for a reason, so never be afraid to ask for a little help.

3. Considered more than just the location

There are a lot of deciding factors that come into play during the search for the perfect fit. We consider factors such as geography, cost, religious affiliation, teacher-to-student ratio and more. But, as a senior in high school, the only thing I was concerned with was not being too far away from home. Looking back on my senior year, I think of all of the colleges that I completely disregarded because of the location. I wanted it to be easy for me to run home for anything––in case of an emergency, a short break, or for no reason at all.

It’s normal for a college freshman to be a little homesick, especially if home is a little longer than a normal car ride away. If you’re feeling iffy about being too far away from home, consider that everything will always work out in the end and look forward to all of the positive things that your college career holds. Once you finally find your home on campus and get the hang of this college thing, your situation will only get better.

4. Attended a pre-college orientation

Many schools offer academic summer programs that give students a head start with life at their dream schools. There were plenty of pre-college programs available at my university––the only problem is that I didn’t attend them.

Pre-college programs and events can give you your first small taste of what it’s really like to spend some time away from home and at the place where you plan on spending the next four (or more) years of your life.

"It's kind of like going to band camp or something before school starts," Brittany says again. "It definitely would've been good to meet those people and form a relationship with them beforehand so I could at least have someone to bond with during the craziness of really starting out as a college freshman."

It’s also a great way to bond with your classmates, as well as upperclassmen who have already been in your shoes and know what it’s like to feel a little lost and out of place. It’s okay to step out of your comfort zone for a second just to know that you’ll end up happier and more comfortable when it counts.

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Though I’m definitely in love with where I ended up, the moral of the story is that you should be aware of the opportunities that are presented to you before your first day of classes. Making the effort to look into your dream school a little more is guaranteed to help you find the perfect fit.