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by Vault Education Editors | March 31, 2009

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In 2007, more students applied to college than ever before, with many college admissions offices reporting double-digit percent increases in applications. And the number of graduating high school students hasn't even peaked! (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it won't peak until 2009.) Although there are many reasons for the surge in applications, the bottom line is that college is more accessible than ever to more students and families. Schools are increasing their financial aid efforts, making online applications easier and amplifying their recruiting efforts.

So you've decided to apply to college. How do you choose which one(s) you want to apply to? And once you've applied and gotten in, how do you know where to go? There are hundreds of undergraduate programs in the United States alone. How does a prospective student pick the best one for him or her?

There is no one way to choose a college. Location, price, size, programs offered, religious affiliation and more go into the decision to choose one college over another. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you make the decision.

Start with your guidance or college counselor

Every high school has at least one guidance or college counselor. And talking to your school's counselor is a good place to start making plans for your future. School counselors will have information on colleges and pre-professional schools and programs, and will probably talk to you about what you like to do and what schools cater to those interests. Your counselor can also help you put together all the materials you'll need to apply to college.

In addition, some schools require a recommendation from a college or guidance counselor(s); counselors may also be asked to answer questions about their students and their academic transcript. For example, why did you get a C in computer science when all your other grades are A's and B's? Why did you enroll in summer classes? Talk to your counselor so he or she is prepared to talk about you and answer those questions honestly; your counselor's answers may be the only thing standing between you and an acceptance letter to your school of choice.

Attend college fairs

Throughout the year, colleges attend college fairs around the country. These fairs bring together lots of representatives from different colleges who want to talk to you about their programs. Attending a college fair will give you a better sense of what's out there and help you decide what college to attend--as well as give you some valuable contacts for when you start to apply!

If you can't make it to a college fair, there are also online (or virtual) college fairs. You sign up for and attend these fairs from the comfort of your own home computer. The first such fair was held by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in fall 2001. College Week Live (www.collegeweeklive.com) organizes the largest online college fair, with participating colleges from all over North America, including Rutgers University, McGill University, the University of Texas at Austin and West Point.

Read up

There are also lots of guides (such as Vault's College Buzz Book), magazines (such as U.S. News & World Report) and web sites (such as www.collegeboard.com) out there to help you learn about what different schools offer, including Vault's. Once you've created a list of schools that interest you, check out their web sites and schedule a campus visit. It's not just the college admissions office's job to see if you're right for their school; it's also their job to see if their school is right for you.

Don't stress

All that said, don't stress out too much over applying to and choosing a college. Applying to college is about showing a possible school the best things about you. And there are many!

Most prospective students apply to more than one school. These schools most often vary in cost and selectivity so that of those schools there will be one to which the student is accepted and is able to afford.

So how to deal with rejection? First: breathe. It's OK. There are hundreds of different and unique colleges out there, and not getting into your top choice is not the end of the world. You may discover wonderful things about your second- or third-choice school that you never knew before. After all, the college accepted you for a reason: they think you will fit in there and enjoy your four years. Many success stories arise from the ashes of a heart-breaking rejection. In the end, you may be glad you didn't get into the school you once dreamed about, and thank them for not accepting you.

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Filed Under: Education

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