Exploring colleges comes with plenty of nervous excitement for any student, but for some of those who haven’t inherited first-hand knowledge about what to expect from parents or siblings, it can feel like there are many unknowns. The good news is that there are a multitude of resources to help with the college search. I talked with Colleen Cox, a first-generation student and member of our admissions staff, to find out what she learned when she was exploring colleges.

“Now that I work at a college, I get to share the inside scoop, tips and resources we have for prospective students,” said Cox.

Together, we’ve compiled some helpful tips for beginning the college search.

#1. Participate in College Visits

The first step for any student is figuring out which colleges you might want to attend. Choosing your university is a big decision, so it’s okay to take your time to make the choice you think is best. (Just make sure you’re aware of any important deadlines for things like scholarship applications!) Visit as many college campuses as you can or attend virtual events. It really helps you get a feel of the campus, students and professors to help you determine if it will be a good fit for you. Also, college visits are super fun!

I encourage you to spend the day on campus. It might help you decide if it is where you are meant to be.

Many colleges offer on campus tours, overnight stays and special events for potential students. You can explore Cornerstone’s in-person and virtual visit options on our Plan a Visit Page!

#2. Talk to Your Counselor & Identify Resources

While seeing the campus is great, you can’t get all your information in one trip. That is why college admissions counselors can be such a great resource. They can answer questions for you about available majors, class sizes, how to apply for financial aid and more. Don’t forget to ask about the requirements to apply to a specific college, as it can be different for each. You can find ways to connect with the Admissions Office here.

High school guidance counselors also have a plethora of resources available. Part of their job is helping you prepare for college, which means they have contacts, websites and inside knowledge about colleges, events and financial aid.

On the topic of financial aid, the cost of school can be intimidating for new students, but you aren’t expected to pay it up front without help. High school guidance counselors can help connect you to college scholarships and answer questions you might have about applying. They might also be able to help you get connected with community grants and external scholarships, like those from local businesses.

“There are so many resources out there for students that can help them through their college journey if they just know about them,” said Cox.

#3. Know It’s Okay to Not Pick a Major Yet

It’s not uncommon for students to come into college without knowing their major. It is also not unusual to see many students change their majors. The beauty of the general education courses you take in your first year is that they give you time to explore different subjects and career options while providing a well rounded education. Once you have experience in a few different fields, you might become more certain of what direction you want to go.

Whether you have a plan or are just getting started, remember there are a world of possibilities waiting for you.

“Don’t rule out where your heart is leading you,” Cox said. “I ruled out different schools because I didn’t realize how many resources there were. If you feel drawn to a school, go for it!”

If you are considering joining the Cornerstone community, I would encourage you to talk to your admissions counselor. They would love to connect with you and be a part of your college search process. For parents of newcomers, we also have an informational page specifically for you! For more information about applying to Cornerstone. check out our Admissions page.