If you are a high school junior or sophomore, or even a freshman, during this time while you are locked in your house, it is a perfect time to dive into the college talk. 

The first step to being successful in the college search process is to try to understand where you want to be after college. Spending time thinking about your career is critical because it will likely have a huge impact on things like how much money you will make or where you will live.

For some, this will be easy; they have always wanted to be a veterinarian or teacher. But for most, it will be really hard. That’s fine and completely normal, so where should you start?

Brendan Ryan

Research different opportunities to understand not only what people in those professions do, but what qualifications they have, how much money they make and maybe most important: how the career intersects with their lifestyle.

As you come up with options, see if you have any relatives or family friends who do that job. Set up a time to talk to them to ask questions and, as things return to normal, set up a time to spend a day at work with them learning about what they do.    

To find the right fit for college, it requires more than the internet or a college encyclopedia; it requires real conversations. It requires being realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. And it requires a plan of how you want to spend your time and keeping your eye on the prize: the long-term benefits of knowledge and confidence.   

In the model of higher education, a full-time student will be required to attend 15 hours of school a week, with about 30 hours of homework. That’s 45 hours of work or, more accurately, 123 hours of free time.

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Understanding how you will spend this time, is at least as important as the ranking of the school. Will you binge drink and party or will you explore the diversity of the classes offered, study abroad and enrich your social circle, hopefully outside of Tinder?    

The next question you need to answer about a school is: can you really excel at the schools you are considering academically? That’s a very important consideration because it’s the foundation of the long-term cycle of success, and that can have a drastic impact on you as a person, not only now, but forever. 

If you see yourself achieving, it can start a chain reaction: increased intrinsic motivation, making it more likely you will graduate, better interactions with professors, and then — who knows? Research opportunities. Better letters of reference for jobs. Nudges toward an elite grad school. You see where this is going.    

The good news is that right now you have lots of time for the first two steps; because of the current problems related to COVID-19. As this passes and it becomes safe again, the most important part of the process is the campus visit. Here, you may get to experience the campus, attend some classes, talk to students and then ask yourself the final question: how do I feel about being here?

What matters most is that you connect to the school, in your own way and want to be there. It is important you get this feeling because college is an adjustment and there will be hard times. When the struggles come, the less invested the student, the more likely they are going to leave.    

When starting the process it is tempting to create lists of schools. This is only helpful if the student already has results including an SAT. These results will be signals on where the student belongs.

In my experience, too many families make a list with hazy or unrealistic numbers, which often creates further frustration as the process moves along. 

Too many students, parents and guidance counselors skim over these details, but it is in these details that students succeed. In my opinion, the college search process is about more than simply checking boxes of “academic ranking” or “big college experience.” 

It’s about finding the right fit. So what is the right fit? A place where the student can enroll with a clear goal, excel academically, with the proper amount of social involvement and enriching activities that prepare you for the real goal of college: to get a job and become a successful adult.

Brendan Ryan is an educator and freelance writer in Lakewood who has an interest in college admissions. 

Special to The Colorado Sun