Before you can enjoy the benefits of higher education, you need to navigate the complicated process of choosing both where to go to college and how to get into college.

Those two questions go hand in hand.

In this article, we'll discuss the important considerations for college hopefuls, such as… 

  • Why do I want to go to college?

  • How do I start researching colleges?

  • Best practices for standing out in a college application?

  • How important are entrance exams like the ACT or SAT?

  • How long does it take to get accepted into college?

College is a major milestone - a place to acquire valuable skills, knowledge, and future career connections.

But it doesn’t start on your first day of college

It starts right now with your motivations for pursuing higher education. 

And it starts with being honest about money.

You shouldn’t have to go into debt for an amazing degree or certificate. So if you want to avoid it, don’t wait until acceptance letters are rolling in to have family discussions about finances.

Talk about it today.

With the diversity of colleges in the United States and worldwide, you can absolutely find the right fit - where you can thrive and also be able to afford it.

So keep reading for expert advice or if you'd like personalized help to explore options and pinpoint the best schools/scholarship opportunities specifically for you, reach out to one of the March private college consultants.

Our entire job is understanding the most up-to-date ins and outs of how to get into college AND how to pay for it. Use our hard-won knowledge by clicking the button below.

Why Do You Want to Go to College

Knowing whether you’re seeking education for personal enrichment, specific career training, or valuable contacts can guide your decisions around schooling. 

The mistake many students make is stressing out over choosing “that one perfect school.”

But the truth is there are thousands of great schools and many perfect options for you – as long as you’re clear on your reasons for seeking further education.

Some possible reasons:

  • Expanding your knowledge: College offers opportunities to explore a variety of subjects and expand your worldview, sometimes by traveling to new places 

  • Personal growth: College exposes you to new ideas, helps develop critical thinking skills, and introduces you to diverse social circles in settings you might not otherwise have access to.

  • Enhancing employability: A college degree can make you more competitive in the job market, opening doors to higher-paying or fulfilling careers – 

  • Revealing potential careers: Colleges offer extracurricular activities that can lead to occupations you may not have considered.

  • Networking: College provides opportunities to network with classmates, professors, and alumni, to enhance your college experience and make valuable connections for your future career.

Take time to reflect on your goals and interests. 

Identify factors that matter to you, then search for schools that provide those possibilities.

Researching And Looking for Colleges

Begin by listing your college preferences. 


  • Location  

  • Size

  • Type

  • Faculty-to-student ratio 

  • Available programs

  • Student life

  • Financial aid opportunities

Create a college list spreadsheet to keep track of how each school fits your most important factors and stay organized as you compare colleges.

How To Start Researching Colleges

Begin with online research based on advice from your school counselor, peers, private college counselors, and family.

Then attend college fairs and utilize resource centers. Take notes on what you like and don’t like (or don’t know). Keep materials from college reps that you meet.

Lastly, visit campuses for a more in-depth understanding.

What Makes A Dream School

A dream school aligns with your personal and academic goals while offering a well-rounded educational environment. 

Consider the following while searching for your dream school:

  • Available courses and majors

  • Academic reputation

  • Graduation and job placement rates

  • Campus culture and extracurricular activities

  • Financial aid and scholarship opportunities

  • Support services, like academic advising and career counseling

Be aware that your priorities may change over time. 

Stay flexible in your search and reevaluate your dream school as you discover new information.

Choosing the Right College

With so many options, choosing the right college may seem overwhelming at first. 

But it doesn’t have to stay that way!

With a deep, thorough data dive on the schools you’re interested in you can incorporate your personal and academic requirements for a strong final decision.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Admission rate and competitiveness of the college

  • Financial requirements and overall cost of attendance

  • Accessibility to internships, study abroad, and research opportunities

  • Student life and social aspects of the college

Ultimately, the right college is one that offers an optimal balance of your academic, personal, and financial needs, and prepares you for your future.

How to Get into a Good College

It’s important to maintain strong academic performance in high school.

This includes taking challenging courses, achieving high grades, and participating in extracurricular activities.

Researching colleges and universities early in your high school career will help you understand requirements. 

As you narrow down your list of potential schools, speak with current students and demonstrate your interest in each college. 

When speaking with admissions officers and counselors, ask specific questions about the admissions process, requirements, and selection criteria.

The time it takes to get accepted into college varies, but being proactive in your preparation and diligent in your applications will improve your admission chances. Be sure to keep track of application deadlines for each college and submit applications well ahead of time. 

Standing Out To Colleges

Having an application that stands out in the large sea of applicants is essential. 

Showcase your commitment and abilities through:

  • Academic performance
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Personal statements
  • Standardized tests like ACT or SAT (yes you should still take them!)

Academics In Applying To College

Maintain a strong high school academic performance to show colleges your dedication and ability to excel. 

Take challenging AP and IB classes when possible.

Colleges appreciate a student who pushes themselves academically.

Extracurriculars For Applying To College

Get involved in extracurricular activities, like clubs, sports, volunteering, or internships. 

Commit to interests outside of school and keep your activities focused. This will demonstrate your depth and growth in them over time.

The quality of your involvement is more important than a long list of activities.

Effective Personal Statements and Essays

Tell your story and convey your unique personality. 

Be genuine and authentic.

Your essay should cover three main aspects:

  • Personal growth: How have you evolved over time?

  • Challenges faced: Describe a meaningful challenge you overcame during high school.

  • Future aspirations: How will college help you achieve your goals?

Remember, a compelling essay is often the deciding factor for admission, so take time to write thoughtfully and revise thoroughly. 

Ensure proper grammar and structure by having trusted help proofreading. 

Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation highlight your qualities from the perspective of others. 

Choose teachers or mentors who know you well and can speak to your strengths and personal growth. 

Approach them early to allow ample time to write a thoughtful, detailed letter. Also, provide information about your accomplishments, interests, and goals to make their job easier.

Understanding Testing Requirements

Some schools may require the SAT or ACT, while others have test-optional policies. Check each college's requirements. 

But be aware that even schools purporting to be “test-optional” may still require test scores for merit aid. 

It's best to take either the ACT or SAT and be ready with at least one test score.

Testing early gives you time to improve your scores if necessary.

Do You Have to Take the ACT?

The ACT covers English, math, reading, and science, with an optional writing section. Whether you need to take the ACT depends on the colleges you are applying to. 

Most U.S. colleges accept either the ACT or SAT.

If either test is acceptable, research the differences between the ACT vs the SAT (including huge changes to the SAT in the next few years) to choose which is best for you.

Do You Have to Take the SAT?

The SAT covers reading, writing and language, and math. 

Many colleges accept either the SAT or ACT, so choose the test that best showcases your skills.

As you start preparing for these tests, it's essential to allow some time for test prep, either through self-study, tutoring, or the best online prep classes

This will help you maximize your scores and increase your chance of acceptance into your desired schools as well as earning scholarships.

Admissions Timeline

Let’s break this crazy process down into manageable, stress-minimizing milestones.

How Long Does It Take to Get Accepted

Each college has its own deadlines and decision release dates, which range from a few weeks to several months. 

The overall process generally spans from fall to spring of your senior year.

To maintain momentum, keep a close eye on:

  1. Application deadlines: These vary by college and by application type (Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision).

  2. Test registration deadlines: For the SAT and ACT tests, be aware of test dates and registration deadlines, allowing time for potential retakes.

  3. Financial aid deadlines: Federal, state, and institutional financial aid each have distinct deadlines. Don't miss out on a piece of these pies.

Staying Organized Throughout the Process

Organization is key to staying on top of your college admissions journey. 

Apply these strategies:

  1. Create a master calendar to track deadlines, test dates, college visits, and interview appointments.

  2. Establish a folder or binder system that keeps your applications, essays, transcripts, and other documents organized and easily accessible.

  3. Utilize email alerts and reminders to stay informed about upcoming dates and commitments.

  4. Regularly communicate with counselors, teachers, and family members throughout the process to share progress, concerns, and important updates.

You got this!

Paying for College

Figuring out how to pay for college can be a daunting task, but it's one of the most (if not THE most) important parts of the college application process. 

Here are some ideas and resources to help you develop a plan of action.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Opportunities

Stay open-minded to all available financial aid resources

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal aid, including grants, work-study, and loans. Many colleges use this information to award their own institutional aid too.

Look for scholarships offered by organizations, foundations, and professional associations. 

Pay attention to eligibility criteria, application requirements, and deadlines. 

Alternative Funding Ideas

Consider additional funding options if scholarships and financial aid do not cover all college-related expenses. Some ideas to explore include:




Part-time, on-campus jobs funded by the federal government that helps you pay for college expenses.

Income Share Agreements (ISAs)

A financing option where you receive funding for your education in exchange for a percentage of your future earnings for a specified period.

Student Loans

Borrow money to pay for college and repay it with interest. Federal loans usually have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options compared to private loans.

Employer Benefits

Many employers have added college tuition payment as a benefit to attract workers, so check into what is available in your area.

It’s entirely possible that you might have even more questions now… which is understandable. There’s a lot of information coming at you. 

That’s why it’s a full-time job to stay up-to-date on it. Enter the college counselors of March Consulting.

Please reach out for answers to the questions that might be coming up for you and let us help.