A Guide to the College Search Process

While many high school students are excited about the prospect of going to college, the search process can seem intimidating and overwhelming. We get it. We spoke with Northwestern College’s admissions counselors about the most common questions they hear and collected the information to create these FAQs that can help.

Where do I even begin?

The best advice we can give is to start early. This way you can take your time in researching colleges, gathering materials and making an informed decision.

How early? Start your junior, or even sophomore, year by sitting down and making a list of priorities you have for choosing a college. Some examples could be location, academic programs, campus culture, size of the college or university, scholarships and affordability.

How do I apply to colleges? Do I need to write an essay?

Once you’ve made your priority list and have researched the schools you may be interested in, it will be time to apply. College applications can be found online via the school’s website. Entry fees and requirements, such as writing an essay or providing letters of recommendation, will vary from school to school. For example, Northwestern College’s application is free, does not require an essay, has no deadline, and we’ve even gone test-optional for students who meet certain GPA criteria. 

Where should I go to ask questions?

Admissions counselors are there to help you through every step of your college search. In fact, their entire job revolves around YOU. You should hear from your admissions counselor shortly after applying, if not sooner. If you don’t hear from them, reach out to the school’s admissions office, and have them put you in contact directly. Be sure to ask for your counselor’s email or cell phone number so you can use them as a resource for all of your questions along the way.

When should I schedule a visit?

Many advise to visit colleges early and often. And most schools offer visits year-round. Our recommendation is to schedule visits during the fall semester of your senior year. Campus is full of life, the weather is pleasant, your school year hasn’t gotten too busy yet, and this positions you to have plenty of time in your spring semester to focus on the larger decisions ahead.

Be sure you research the differences between an individual visit and a group visit before you register so you can choose the type of visit best suited for you!

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®). (It’s your opportunity to apply and qualify for grants, scholarships and loans awarded by the federal and/or state government.) And don’t forget the most important part—it is a FREE APPLICATION. After completion, your application information will be processed as they decide what financial aid you qualify for based on your family’s financial situation.  

When will I receive my financial aid package?

You can file the FAFSA beginning in December this year. It is important to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.

Due to processing times, you can expect to see your official financial aid package from colleges during the spring semester, typically around March. From here, you will have the option to view what you have qualified for and choose to accept or decline each award. Any additional academic or extracurricular scholarships you may qualify for will be included in your financial aid package from each school.

Our advice: Be patient. Don’t make any decisions about where you’ll attend college until you’ve received all your information and can make a true comparison of bottom-line costs.

What does it mean to "deposit"?

A college deposit is a small, one-time fee that gives you access to a lot of perks. At Northwestern, we recommend that you deposit within two weeks after you've been accepted for admission. There's no risk—your $200 deposit is fully refundable through May 1 if you choose not to attend NWC—but depositing enables the fun to begin! You will gain access to housing applications, dorm room assignments, roommate pairings, class selections and more. And there are advantages to deciding and depositing sooner rather than later. Many of these lists, such as housing applications and class selections, are on a first-come, first-served basis. The sooner you deposit, the higher on the list you will be for access!  

What should I do when I have made my final college decision?

Shout it from the rooftops! Tell your friends and family. Share on social media. Be sure to let your admissions counselor know you have made your final decision. They will guide you through the process of making things official.

As awkward as it may be, we do suggest you contact the other schools you were considering. This way they can remove you from their contact lists as you prepare for graduation and the transition to the college you have chosen.

We know the college search process can seem daunting, but preparing yourself, understanding the process, and asking the right questions will lead you to a more stress-free search and final decision. Make sure you ask for help when you need it. Our admissions counselors at Northwestern College are experts and are here to help! Contact us today!