Starting your college search? Here are a few tips.

I’m sure you, like many students, have a lot of questions about where to start the college search process. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer some, if not all, of your questions here. We’re going to break this down by year in order to help you pinpoint exactly where you need to start. So let’s get going!

Freshman Year

  1. I know you’re thinking, “Freshman year?! That’s too early to start! College is so far away!” But this is actually a great time to get started so you have plenty of time to navigate your way through the whole college search and application process.
  2. If you’ve never heard of myIllini, you should become very familiar with it this year. You’ll be able to meet your admissions counselor, find nearby events, and sign up for campus visits through this portal. I would also suggest reaching out to your high school counselor  to make sure you’re taking the correct classes and are on track to meet our admissions requirements.
  3. If you’re not already participating in some activities outside of school, get involved! Activities can be anything from clubs and organizations at your school to athletics to volunteering.
  4. And if you’re feeling extra motivated to explore Illinois, I’d recommend attending one of our summer programs, which are hosted on our campus!

Sophomore Year

  1. If you haven’t created a myIllini account, I would really recommend doing so during your sophomore year. You should also start or continue to reach out to your high school counselor to make sure you’re staying on track to meet our admissions requirements and also discussing your college goals.
  2. If you already participate in some extracurricular activities, try to become more involved with them. Look for ways to take on leadership roles. You should also begin looking for great opportunities like a part-time job or a summer internship to help you further explore your interests.
  3. Also, if you’ve never taken the PSAT/NMSQT, I would recommend signing up for one of them. Remember that before taking one of these tests, you should do some preparation. You can always take practice tests online for free!

Junior Year

  1. If you still haven’t created a myIllini account, this is definitely the year to do it! Keep in contact with your high school counselor to discuss your college goals and your senior-year course plan. This will help you stay on track to meet our admissions requirements. You should always be sure to take advantage of rigorous courses such as AP or IB classes as long as your school offers them.
  2. Make sure to stay involved with your extracurricular activities and continue to look for leadership positions. These positions will involve more of a time commitment and additional responsibility, which is something we definitely look for when we review applications.
  3. If you haven’t taken the PSAT/NMSQT yet, be sure to sign up to take one of these tests in October. And while we’re talking about standardized tests, register and practice for your ACT or SAT tests, too.
  4. This is also the time to start thinking about possible majors. After you create a list of your interests and strengths, go ahead and research what interests you and review some admission requirements.
  5. Finally, junior year is a good time to start talking to your family about possible college options. It’s all about finding your (and your family’s) right fit. Things to consider include size, a specific major, research, athletics, distance from home, cost, etc.

Senior Year

  1. Now is the time to really buckle down! Make a list of 5 to 10 colleges that interest you the most. I would also recommend visiting as many of them as possible (including Illinois!) before you apply.
  2. Creating a separate college calendar with important dates and deadlines is a must. That way you’ll never miss an application deadline, a visit, or any financial aid deadlines.
  3. When you’re filling out applications, ask your parents, high school counselor, or English teacher to review your essays. It’s important to have multiple people from different backgrounds proofread them because they will all notice different things and have different suggestions.
  4. Apply for financial aid by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to search for local, state, and national scholarships! Choose good references, and again, make sure to have others proof your essays.
  5. Once you find out which universities you’ve been admitted to, rank them in order of preference and evaluate your options. I’d also recommend visiting your top choice before accepting their offer. You will need to notify each university of your final decision by May 1.

I know that was a lot of information, but hopefully I was able to cover all of your questions. Now, are you ready to get to work? High five!

High Five Cat


Please note that comments close after 90 days.

Damian Franklin Jr

August 2, 2016, 10:38 am

I actually found this extremely helpful. I really appreciate you guys for emailing me the info. U of I is my top choice on my list of colleges. I plan to go on a college tour there. I was wondering if I can get some help setting the college tour at U of I?? If possible, talking to admission counsellors their too?? Thanks again!!!



August 2, 2016, 4:53 pm

Hi Damian,
I’m glad that you found this blog post helpful!

If you would like to speak with Campus Visits their phone number is (217) 333-0824. Otherwise you can set up a visit through a myIllini account, which you can create on our admissions homepage.

We take walkins at our office so you can come in at any time between 8:30 am-5:00 pm and ask to speak with an admissions counselor.


Sheroz Baig

August 6, 2016, 10:41 pm

Does all this apply to international students as well?



August 8, 2016, 11:42 am

Hi Sheroz,
Yes, I would say that the vast majority of this blog also pertains to international students. The only item that I would recommend contacting your high school guidance counselor regarding is the PSAT/NMSQT testing. Just check with them to see if that’s something that they would recommend that you take.