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Your path to college

Thinking about college can be overwhelming and stressful. But once you get organized and give yourself a list of smaller tasks, it’s not so bad. And, it’s never too early to get started! Use this guide to begin your journey to furthering your education.

A few tips as you begin your college search

  • Keep an open mind and collect solid information.
  • Don’t worry about a magic number of schools to look at or apply to. Everyone’s different.
  • Remember this is an exciting time in your life, even though it doesn’t feel like it now.
  • Your “best fit” school will offer the right combination of academic programs, student life, and research opportunities.



Create your list of schools

Think about what you won’t be able to live without versus what would just be nice to have. Get feedback from your teachers, counselors, and family, too.

  • What are your needs?
    • Consider each school’s majors and minors.
    • What scholarships are available? Financial aid?
    • What campus facilities do they offer?
    • Any one-of-a-kind or specialized programs?
  • What are your wants?
      • Do you want to study in a small town or large city?
      • Does weather matter?
      • Consider which schools offer your favorite student clubs and athletics.


    • PRO TIP: Watch online videos of student performances and campus events. Try to picture yourself there.

      Attend college fairs

      When are the schools on your list coming to your area? Ask them about everything, including their testing policy. Find out which tests are required or recommended. Don’t be shy in person or afterwards. Interacting with counselors is a great way to demonstrate interest.

      Now is a great time to schedule an appointment with your school’s college counselor / guidance counselor to talk through the early stages of your college search.

      Plan your courses for senior year

      College coursework is rigorous. Try to make your last two years of high school mirror that if possible. The most challenging courses in your school—whether that’s IB, AP, or honors—will prepare you for the work ahead.

      Create your resume

      Don’t underestimate your extracurricular activities, community service, and awards. Your resume should showcase all that you’ve accomplished. It creates a clear picture for the schools you send it to.

      Register for spring SAT/ACT tests

      Traditionally, this is the time to begin taking practice exams. However, over the course of the past few years many institutions have gone test-optional. While many institutions no longer require testing, some still do. Consider if taking the exams now are the right fit for you and your post-secondary goals.

      The University of Rochester maintains a test-optional application policy as part of our holistic review for undergraduate admissions. This review process incorporates a variety of factors, including many kinds of academic and nonacademic factors and realizes that standardized tests may not be an accurate reflection of a student’s abilities.



      Register for campus tours, admissions interviews, and information sessions. Colleges also offer summer programs, so check websites for upcoming events.


      Refine your list

      Narrow it down to the schools that offer your must- haves. For schools you didn’t get a chance to visit, see if they have a virtual tour or browse their social media to get a feel for them.

      Research merit scholarships

      College isn’t cheap. Identify the schools that offer scholarships that best complement your achievements and awards.

      Brainstorm essay topics and application supplements

      Most schools require an essay. Some even let you submit artwork, videos, or research materials as a virtual portfolio. Whatever you choose, it’s a great way to present the real you.

      Consider which teachers or community members are best-suited to write your recommendations

      Have a teacher who knows you and your approach to school best? Is there a member of your community who can speak to how you’ve contributed and shown positive characteristics? Many colleges/universities require recommendations and now is a good time to think about who to ask.

      PRO TIP: They don’t have to be the teacher from whom you always get an A. Consider who can speak to how you’ve overcome challenges or shown perseverance.

      Register for fall SAT/ACT tests

      Historically, now is the time to register for testing if you want to include them in your applications. Again, take some time to consider what testing policies are associated with the schools on your list and if testing is right for you. If you’re going to include them, now is a good time to register for the fall testing dates.

      Attend summer academic programs

      Many schools offer pre-college programs for junior high and high school students. You’ll make new friends, add to your résumé, and explore different subjects.

      Rochester students pursue only what they’re interested in. Rochester’s Pre-College Programs offers high school students that same freedom. Join students from around the globe to explore the University and broaden your educational experience, sharpen academic skills, and learn more about who—not just what—you want to be.


      Meet with your school counselor

      This is a great way to discuss your college list and plans.

      Meet with colleges if they visit your high school

      It’s one thing to look at a school’s website and social media; it’s another thing to ask questions face-to-face.

      Attend an open house

      See the schools on your list up close if you haven’t yet. Walk the campus, visit departments, and see if things click.

      Attend a Research Rochester open house!

      Schedule interviews with admissions offices

      Even if it’s not required, an interview is an excellent chance to show your interest. Share the story that only you can tell. This means a lot to a school.

      PRO TIP: Remember to schedule your virtual interview with Rochester! It’s a great way to connect with a Rochester representative, share more about what makes you interesting and what you’re interested in, and can be a helpful component to your application file.

      Get an early start on applications

      If you plan on applying early to a school, allow yourself enough time to assemble all your materials and submit them before the deadlines.

      Be aware of deadlines

      Admissions and financial aid offices process thousands of applications each year. Complete yours on time. Keep a spreadsheet to stay organized.

      Explore Rochester’s application deadlines

      Start working on your college essays

      Write it, revise it, and allow someone else to read it. Be clear, precise, and express what makes you stand out as an applicant.

      Update your resume

      Include all your most recent activities and accomplishments.

      Ask for letters of recommendation

      Allow your teachers, counselors or community recommenders adequate time to write these as they may be asked to write letters for others. The beginning of your senior year is a great time to do this.

      Send your SAT/ ACT scores

      If you have taken the test make sure to understand how the college/university wishes to receive them. Some schools will permit you to self-report scores, while others will require you to submit them officially from the testing agency. If you are unsure, connect with the college admissions office directly and they’ll be sure to help.

      Complete and submit your applications

      Keep any confirmation emails for your records.

      Have a question about applying to Rochester?

      We’re here to help—and no concern is too big or too small. Send us an email at


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