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High School

The 7 People You Need to Talk to Before Making Your College List

You’re a high school senior. It’s fall. You know what that means: it’s time to get started on applying for colleges.  We don’t need to tell you that this is a pretty daunting experience. First, you have to pick out which colleges you want to apply to. College applications can be expensive and time-consuming, so you want to make sure you only apply to colleges that truly interest you. However, there are thousands of options to consider—how are you supposed to decide?

One of the best ways to figure out which colleges will work best for you is to talk with people. This gives you the chance to personalize your search by asking questions specific to your interests. Here is our list of the top people to chat up while you’re making these important decisions.

Your Older Sibling

This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. Your older sibling (or your best friend’s older sibling) has already gone through what you’re going through now. Not to mention, this person is very familiar with your interests and personality. Find out which schools they applied to and which schools their friends went to. Ask what they wish they had done differently, and what they think might be the best colleges for you. Your older sibling will be a good judge of what’s best for you since he or she has known you for 18 years!

Your Favorite High School Teacher

Even if your teachers aren’t counselors or college experts, they can still be a huge help. They’ve seen hundreds of students apply to colleges. Not to mention, they know all about your academic interests and strengths and could give you an idea of which schools might be a good match for you.

Find out where your favorite professor went to school and what her experience was like. If you love history and your teacher still raves about the history department at her school, check it out (although be wary if she graduated several decades ago; departments change!). Chances are, your teachers will know which schools have good reputations in whatever their areas of interest are. Your coach, for example, can tell you which schools have great women’s soccer teams.

Bonus: If you go to your teachers for advice about college, they’ll remember how serious you are about college when they’re writing your recommendation! 

Someone Working in Your Dream Career Field

Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who knows what career she wants, or maybe you have a general idea that you want to go into a particular field. Talk to people who are successful in your area of interest to find out where they got their start, or where they wish they had gotten their start.

“I applied to my school because all the musicians I know say it’s one of the best music schools around,” says Joan K*, a junior at the Eastman School of Music.

People who already do what you want to do will know which schools have the best programs in your area of interest, and which schools you should avoid.

Your Guidance Counselor

It’s no secret that a great source for advice on college admissions is your high school guidance counselor. We’re not the only ones who say so; Mark Wells, assistant dean and director of admissions at the University of Rochester, cites high school guidance counselors as some of the top people to talk to. “College counselors can guide prospective students in their search to help them achieve their academic, co-curricular and career objectives,” he says. “College counselors frequently know general information about colleges and universities students might be considering and might even know the admissions representatives.”  

When talking to your guidance counselor about a particular college, be sure to ask if any students from your school went to that college. Also, ask if there’s anything in particular that the college’s admissions department likes to see in its applicants. Your counselor might have the inside scoop on your dream school’s admittance process.


A Traveling Admissions Counselor

Maybe you’re hoping to get out of your hometown and attend school far away. You probably won’t be able to visit every school before deciding whether or not to apply to each one. Fortunately, lots of schools send out traveling admissions counselors, who are representatives who will come to your region to give talks and interviews. This is a great way to get a feel for the school without spending time or money on airfare. Ask your guidance counselor about these opportunities, or check out the school’s website to see when an admissions counselor is coming to your hometown.

How can you make the most out of visiting with these counselors? Avoid asking questions that can be answered by looking at their website (for example, “How many students attend X University?”). Instead, ask broader questions about the atmosphere of the school. Here are some questions that Wells recommends:

  • What’s the political climate on campus?
  • How do students demonstrate their school spirit?
  • Can you provide some examples of undergraduate research being done in X department?

A Current College Student Who Has Similar Interests as You

Sometimes, it only takes one conversation to tell you all you need to know about a school. Rachel E., a junior at the University of Rochester, wanted a school that would match her strong academic work ethic and challenge her intellectually. When she visited one small liberal arts school and asked a student how she liked it, the girl said, “It’s great; we hardly have any work!” Immediately Rachel knew she didn’t want to apply to that school.

You can get a feel for the school by chatting with any of the students who go there, but an even better way to find out if a school is right for you is to talk to people who have similar interests as you. After all, that chemistry major who plays in the orchestra could be you in a year. Ask her if the school has a lot to offer for aspiring chemists and music lovers. Make sure to ask specific questions about what she likes at her school. If you ask who her favorite professor is and she can’t name one because she likes too many, then you know it’s a school worth looking into.

Can’t make it to the campus? Try joining Facebook groups for interested students and posting questions about your interests. Many college students love answering questions for prospective students.

A College Professor

Many students don’t think about the professors at a school until they become students there, but professors know a lot about the academics and resources offered at their college. When visiting schools, Kathryn M, a junior at the University of Rochester, was very interested in finding out how she could get involved in musical theater. After touring a small liberal arts college, she walked through the music department to get a feel for the program and happened to come across a music professor who directed the school’s yearly musical. “We spent close to an hour talking about the school’s theater productions and how he runs his shows,” she says. “I got an insight into the department’s strengths and objectives that I never could have gotten from a brochure.”

Check out the school’s website and look for professors in your area of interest. Send an email with your questions, or if you’ll be visiting, ask to meet up in his or her office or for lunch. When you meet, ask about the classes and opportunities offered at the school. Also be sure to ask what the students are like, and if any notable guest lecturers have visited recently. Don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you note!


After you’ve chatted with all these people, take time to reflect before plunging in on your applications. Trust the advice of people who know you well, but in the end, you’re the one who will be going to college—not your older sister, your math teacher or your parents. Where you want to apply is your decision.

*Name has been changed

Katherine Varga is a Contributing Writer for Her Campus. She's currently a junior at the University of Rochester, where she is pursuing a major in English (Language, Media, and Communications) and a minor in Math. Her interests include playing the piano, practically living at the library, and telling jokes that make her friends groan. She's currently taking a class on Stephen Sondheim and loves it so much she wouldn't mind marrying it.
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