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How to choose a college that’s best for you

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Whether you're filing taxes or buying a home, many would say they're time-consuming tasks, while others, consider them a hassle.

While "adulting" seems stressful at times, there is one process that is hovering over teenagers' heads: the dreadful task of applying for college.

With that challenge, comes questions: How do students know a college is the right fit? What should a college visit look like? And how do you choose a school that doesn't break the bank?

Though the process is rough for students, it's not a walk in the park for staff, either.

Jody Chycinski, director of admissions at Grand Valley State University, says there are strategies in choosing the right college. She says keeping your options open is the best approach as you start the search process.

Tom Mikowski, the interim vice president of enrollment at Aquinas College, advises students to think about what experiences the college is going to provide you, both inside and outside of the classroom.

In addition, Mikowski believes overnight visits are the best way for students to see if a college is right for them.

Since campus tours are primarily guided by a current student, that's a good time to ask questions about the school's environment, how often classes are taught by graduate assistants, whether or not students interact with the faculty, what types of clubs and organizations one can get involved in, and what housing options are available.

From housing options to college recruiting, a lot has changed in the last few years. Mikowski says the use of videos is "a really big thing," and virtual tours are becoming more common as well. Aquinas recently implemented AQ Quick Chat, which provides face-to-face interaction with students and staff online.

Chycinski says social media is a fun way for students to get college on their radar. Then, do your research.

"Campus visits are the number one tool I think that’s critical in making a decision," Chycinski said. "Certainly going to college websites and understanding a profile of the institution. You don’t want to be disappointed when you apply to school and your academic credentials aren’t the right match."

But colleges are looking at more than just academics. "We want students that are going to be successful in the classroom," Mikowski said. "We want to be proud of the academic qualifications for new students coming in here, but we want them to be solid contributors in the community too."

Chycinski adds that schools are going to look at your entire high school career. She suggests setting some academic goals, course selection goals, which "will help you get through" the course of those four high school years.

Paying for college is an important consideration. Chycinski suggests applying for the FAFSA and several college scholarships as you hunt for a school that financially makes sense. "There is a lot of money available out there, but it does take some work on the part of the student," Chycinski said.

The best advice Mikowski and Chycinski have for students is to start searching in high school, get to applying and get ready to walk.

Junior year is a good time to start visiting colleges. Try to narrow your choices down to five to seven schools. Once you narrow your choices down to three to four different schools, then it's a good time for an overnight visit. If it's a school you really like, try visiting more than once.

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