College Search Process

Getting Started with the College Search Process

We’re excited to be sharing another guest blog with our At The Core family. Dr. Craig E. Ullom, Ed.D., is the founder and CEO of NextPath Learning and our go-to resource for the high school to college parental transition with our Changing Lanes presentations. As a former college vice president/senior student affairs officer and a dad, Craig brings a wealth of knowledge on the college search process and a college student’s life.


A common question posed by parents of college bound students is “when should we start the college search process?” The answer: “sometime before your child goes to college!” The point being is that there is no hard and fast one size fits all answer to that question- it is all about each family’s situation and capacity to take on the college project.

Findings from the College Parent Readiness Questionnaire (CPRQ) that I developed provide some insight about when families get started with the college project. Over 200 parents of high school students participated in the CPRQ, and their responses paint a picture of priorities and practices associated with the college search.

For the purpose of the CPRQ, I defined the college search process to include looking at websites, attending college fairs, visiting colleges, communicating with college personnel, meeting with a college counselor, applying, and accepting an offer of admission.

What did I learn about getting started with the college search?

Five percent (5%) of families started the college search in the first year of high school. By the time students were sophomores in high school, 25% had started looking for colleges. In the junior year, two thirds (67%) of students had started the college search, and in the senior year, 84% of students were in full search mode.

As a parent of two college bound students, I wrestled with the right time to get started.

After all, our children have a lot going on in high school and why not let them enjoy the ride and delay the college search as long as we can. As parents, we are conflicted about balancing the present with the inevitable launch of our child into college and the path of emerging adulthood.

Anecdotally, I learned that families starting the college project earlier tend to be less stressed than those who start later. Consider this. Parents and students can start the college project at different times and in different ways.

Think of this as a staged launch.

Parents need to get started first to effectively assist and support their child in this significant life passage. Remember the emergency aviation protocol of putting on your oxygen mask first and then helping others put on theirs.

Parents need to get a head start by first becoming knowledgeable about contemporary higher education, student and emerging adult development, and the mechanics of searching, applying, and selecting a college. Take advantage of learning opportunities that will deepen and widen your knowledge of the college project, so you can be ready to help your child when they are ready to launch.


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