Students commonly wonder about the college research process.

It is critical to understand many different factors about the colleges you are considering applying to or attending. But how do you gather the relevant information? What resources are available to you? High quality information is important in making any important decision, so let’s talk about different ways you can do research on schools to make sure you can make the best decisions.

Initial Brainstorming

First of all, it is important to understand your own personal reasons for going to college. What exactly do you want to get out of it? Are you looking for a social community? Sports? Certain academic programs? What is it that motivates you to go to college?

Understanding your personal answers to these questions will help orient you in your research. It doesn’t make sense to be researching the sports programs at dozens of schools if you already know that it isn’t a relevant part of your interest in college. So save yourself a lot of time and energy by thinking about what is most important to you. Then, you can use that to drive the research that you do.

Beginning Your Research

The first place you can explore for reliable information is a college/university’s website. It seems obvious, but it really is a treasure trove when it comes to doing research. Colleges use their websites as a sort of billboard for prospective students. In most cases, they have invested a lot of time and resources into creating a website that is informative and easy to use.

Most college websites have clearly separated sections that go into different factors you may be interested in. Sections you may see include:

  • Who We Are / Mission Statement
  • Education
    • Departments
    • Research
    • Institutes
    • Global Campuses & Centers
  • Life at the College
    • Student Life
    • About the Surrounding Town/City
    • Resources
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Safety
  • Admissions

This is not an exhaustive list. There’s more! The point is that the website can provide you with a huge amount of relevant information that is split up into helpful categories. This is the place for you to start. Read through each of the different sections here that are of interest to you.

You can start investigating the various academic departments at the university to see if they offer what you want to study. You can see the professors that teach in the department, what they focus on, and possibly even what classes are offered. This will help you decide if the school is a good academic fit for you. Often times colleges will offer unique, inter-disciplinary programs that you can find by doing research. This might spark a new interest in you that you didn’t know existed. But you might never find out about programs like this if you don’t start doing a deep dive into the offerings at various colleges.

Another great section to explore is student life. There, you can learn about what it’s like to be a student at the university. They will talk about dorms, dining halls, student organizations, and more. This is where you can really begin to understand the culture of a college and if it’s a good fit for you in that respect. Academics are very important, but if you don’t mesh well with the culture of a school, it will likely make it difficult for you to enjoy your time in college. So do your best to understand what life is like for students on campus.

It’s also important that you read up on the admissions section of the website. Different colleges have different requirements for admission. It’s possible that you may discover something you wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. Maybe there’s an earlier deadline if you want to be considered for a merit scholarship – this happens sometimes. Only by being proactive in your research efforts will you be made aware of this opportunity.

Campus Visits

Going to visit schools in person is a great way to really see what life is like for students. Exploring the campus and the surrounding area will give you a good idea of how much you enjoy the environment. Moreover, if you take a tour you will be given lots of information from an expert guide. They will point out the important buildings and spots on campus. This can be helpful as it may provide additional information that wouldn’t otherwise be available on the school’s website. They can let you know where students hang out on Friday nights, the most popular study spots, and more.

In-person campus visits are not always possible. That’s understandable. Fortunately, there are ways that you can tour a campus virtually, through websites like Check them out if you want to know more about a college’s campus but can’t go see it for whatever reason.

Additional Resources

Do you know anybody who recently attended or is currently attending one of the schools you’re interested in? This is an excellent way to learn more. Speaking to a current/recent student will give you a first-person perspective that cannot be found by reading through the college’s website. They can tell you things that they found important but weren’t advertised. They can also directly answer any specific questions you may have. Try your best to find a current student if you can. Especially if you are both interested in the same academic field.

If you cannot find anybody to speak to, go to YouTube. There are thousands of videos on there made by current/recent students at nearly every major university. You can watch some great content that will give you a similar perspective as speaking with somebody. The only downside is that you can’t ask specific questions.

One note on all of this: speak to somebody who is a current or recent student. It won’t help you that much to speak to somebody that graduated 20+ years ago. It’s not that it doesn’t have any value, but things will likely have changed a lot since they graduated. They might be telling you about a totally different environment than the one that currently exists.

Organize and Compare

As you’re gathering all of this information, be sure to write everything down. Keep an organized list where you put down all the relevant information about the schools you’ve researched. Once you have this organized and easy to read, you can begin a comparison process. Ask yourself what things stood out to you the most when looking into schools. Were you drawn to a particular hybrid academic program? Study abroad opportunities? Specific majors?

These are important questions to ask yourself because they will help you understand what’s most important to you. Maybe you realized that changed as you underwent the research process and found new opportunities you weren’t previously aware of.

Now that you know what’s important to you and you’ve gathered high quality, reliable information from a range of sources, you can make an informed decision about which schools you want to apply to and/or attend.

For help with building your college list, feel free to contact us. At American College Counselors, we work one-on-one with students to help them find the schools that are a uniquely great fit for them.

For help on anything else related to the college admissions process, please contact us to set up a free initial consultation where we can get to know each other a bit better and explain exactly what we do. Send us an email at [email protected] or call/text us at +1(954)-593-6230.

The American College Counselors Team