Whether you’re graduating high school in four years, a few short months… or next month, you’ll be getting ready to make one of the biggest decisions of your life: where to go to college. It’s a very complicated decision and there’s no cookie cutter way of helping you make that choice — but here are a few organizational tips that can help prevent your head from spinning.
Mail, mail, everywhere!
You’re probably going to start receiving mail from colleges. Lots of mail. That’s awesome! When you get something in your mailbox, try to look at it right away. If it seems interesting, keep it. If not, throw it away. Saving everything for a college study crunch session later may seem like a good idea, but eventually you’ll just get overwhelmed and won’t look at any of it. When you’ve got some good stuff, keep it in folders or a box. Note any date-sensitive things, like events or deadlines.
Emails on emails.
You might get a lot of emails. And I know you’re also facing a sea of snapchats, notifications and texts, but college emails serve a valuable purpose, too. Start a system of folders in your inbox and save the emails you think are interesting. Your inbox will be more organized and you won’t have trouble finding things later.
Google Drive, Calendar and Docs
In addition to mail and email, you’re going to have a lot of other information to keep track of. I recommend using Google Apps to help keep everything organized. When you schedule a visit to a campus, add it to your calendar with directions or special information. Keep a running list of colleges you’ve visited and what you thought of each one. If a school provided you with contact information for a tour guide or counselor, add that, too.
Even though you’ll be using these tools for your college search, you can use them more broadly as well. For example, you could add scholarship deadlines to your Google Calendar. Or create a Google Drive folder for your application essays or involvement. Having things in a centralized location will help you optimize your time, allowing you to keep working on your college search from your phone, with your guidance counselor or by the pool in the summer.
“Old School” Record-Keeping
Not a fan of digital file storage? That’s no problem! Having a good, old-fashioned notebook, planner or binder works too. I suggest keeping the majority of your papers at home, but bring a small memo pad along with you to visits. You don’t have to transcribe your visit by any means, but it might help to have in your back pocket if you get a really good nugget of information you don’t want to forget. Make sure to label/date each page so you don’t have a bunch of random notes that you can’t trace back to any school in particular.
Follow Along on Social Media
Create a list of schools you’re interested in and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. You can set up lists in Facebook, so you can sort and just view colleges via your newsfeed. You can also set up a Twitter/Instagram filter set to give you tweets from potential colleges. These tools provide you with off-the-cuff information happening right now.
Bookmarks and Printouts
It’s happened to the best of us. You found a really good website… but for the absolute life of you, you can’t find it anymore. Solve this problem by creating bookmark folders. This will save you time later if you go back to verify that a school has your major, or what their application requirements are. (Name your bookmarks too… This is my weakness. Haha!)
List Out the Pros and Cons
No school is ever going to be perfect. If you can remember that, and accept that fact, you will be much happier. Instead of focusing on 100% compatibility, weigh out what is most important to you, and rank each school in how well you feel it fits you in each category. We all have deal-breakers. That’s OK. But for everything else, be flexible and be happy.
Spring Cleaning… All the Time
Your college search lists are going to be evolving. Don’t be afraid to add or remove schools as you learn more about them. You might be set on one or two schools right now, but in the course of the next several months, several new ones might pop up in your mailbox, inbox or newsfeed. Keep an open mind and be flexible!