Tips for Starting Your College Search

Hello #FutureILLINI! I’m here to hopefully provide some useful tips for starting your college search. Whether you are a freshman or senior in high school, searching for the perfect college can be VERY overwhelming. There are literally thousands of colleges to choose from, so how do you start preparing to find the right place for YOU? If the University of Illinois is on your list of choices (and here’s some reasons why we should be), let me share some of my advice.

Freshman Year

Go you! You are planning ahead. While this is a great time to start narrowing down what you want in a school (size, possible major, location), make sure you are really focusing on adjusting to high school and doing well in class. But, here are a few things to do:

  1. Join myIllini, and here’s why. You’ll create a profile to tell us about your interests and you can meet with your admissions counselor (maybe me!).
  2. Get to know your high school guidance counselor and learn more about the different courses offered at your high school to make sure you meet our admissions requirements.
  3. Check out our summer programs.
  4. Start getting involved outside of the classroom. Join a club or organization, maybe volunteer, or work part time.

Sophomore Year

  1. If you haven’t yet, join myIllini!
  2. Talk with your high school counselor about rigorous courses at your high school like honors, Advanced Placement, IB, and/or dual credit.
  3. Think about taking on a leadership position with a club or organization. You may find a new passion or in my case, I was the Treasurer of Student Council and I realized I definitely did not want to major in Economics! Check out if there are some summer internships in your area of interest.
  4. Your school may offer the PSAT/NMSQT, if not you may want to sign up to take the exam. And there are some great practice tests online for free!

Junior Year

  1. Ok, really, JOIN myILLINI!
  2. Continue to get involved in activities outside of the classroom. We look for students who have shown progressive leadership in organizations, while earning good grades.
  3. I can’t say this enough…but junior year grades are SO important. These are the most recent grades we have when we review your application senior year. Really focus on doing well in courses, while challenging yourself with more rigorous courses.
  4. You’ll also take the SAT and/or ACT in school. It’s important to prepare as much as possible for these tests, but know admissions is based on a variety of factors (like grades, rigor, involvement, scores, etc.).
  5. Start thinking about possible major options. Consider subject areas in which you excel (and be aware of your not-so-great areas). What type of environment do you see yourself working? Do you like working with people, things, ideas? It’s okay to not have one specific major in mind, you can always talk to your high school guidance counselor and/or admissions counselor (again, like me!).
  6. Have conversations with your family, teachers, and/or mentors about college options. Do you want to plan to visit over the summer? Is it time to start looking for scholarships? Start making a list of things that are important to you in a college (size, location, affordability, major, etc.)

Senior Year

  1. Make a list of 5-10 schools to apply. Remember, there are thousands of choices, and you only need to go to one.
  2. Create a separate college calendar with important dates and deadlines. That way you’ll never miss an application deadline, a visit, or any financial aid deadlines.
  3. Ask a teacher, parent, and/or counselor review your essays. Trust me, it’s hard to proofread your own work.
  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 where you are admitted, do a happy dance and make your final decision by May 1!

At any point in your college search, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office and talk with an admissions counselor (that’s our job, and I really do love my job!). You can email our office at or give us a call at 217-333-0302.




Admissions Counselor
I work extensively with our large campus visit programs to give our prospective students first-hand experience of life at Illinois. I grew up in and around Champaign-Urbana, but most recently I moved from northwest Ohio, where I finished my master’s degree in College Student Personnel.