5 Tips to Organize Your College Search

Easily wade through college application materials and stay on track with these ideas.

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There are no shortage of places to gather information about colleges. But what do you do with the information once you have it?

Here are some tips for organizing your college search:


Lindsey officially began her college search in her freshman year of high school. That's because her high school computer technology teacher had students research and explore colleges online and then put the information they gathered into a spreadsheet.

Smart teacher.

Just three years later, Lindsey and I found ourselves creating spreadsheets to deal with the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that is part of the college selection and application processes.

Here are the systems and tools that helped us:

1. High school resources: Lindsey's high school offered a website that had many college resources for parents and students. Not only was it a place to research colleges, but it kept track of the student's information (test scores, high school résumé, surveys, and more) in one place. Both parents and students could also communicate with the counselor through the website. Check to see if your child's school offers something similar.

2. Old fashioned file folders: Despite the high tech world we live in, much of the information from colleges will show up as packets, brochures, postcards, and letters in your mailbox. Much of this can be trashed, especially as colleges are ruled out. But as the college selection process heats up, you'll want to keep letters of admittance and scholarship offers, as well as other vital information, in an organized fashion.

[Follow these 10 steps to pick the right school for you.]

3. Computer spreadsheets: I created two spreadsheets to help keep us organized: one to compare the colleges Lindsey was considering and a second to keep track of application requirements once she had decided where to apply.

[Find out how to apply to college for free.]

The first spreadsheet had rows for number of students, tuition amount, estimated cost of room and board, student-to-faculty ratio, and average ACT scores. The second had places to check off when these things were sent: application for admission, transcript, ACT scores, counselor recommendation, teacher recommendations, and scholarship application. Spreadsheets are a huge help in helping you look at information on different schools side by side.

[Easily compare schools with the U.S. News College Compass.]


Entering my senior year of high school, I was already frustrated with the college search and application process. I still had a lot of schools on my radar, and every day I would hear about another school or program that sounded promising. Here's how I kept it all straight and managed to end up in the right place for me:

1. Keep a calendar: After deciding which schools I was interested in, I had a mountain of dates to keep track of—deadlines for applications, honors programs, scholarships, and others. One of the best ways to stay organized and meet deadlines is to invest in a calendar or day planner and record every school's important dates. This way you won't have to regret missing out on a scholarship or similar opportunity because of a missed deadline.

[Find out what not to do when applying to college.]

2. Narrow your choices early: Like I've already mentioned, each school you apply to will require many other things besides the application itself, like housing contracts or registration for orientation. My biggest piece of advice to keep things simple is to narrow your college choices to two or three before doing anything else.

It's something I wish someone had told me before filling out applications for four different honors programs and looking into countless scholarship applications at schools I later eliminated from my list.