College Planning

5 Ways to Start Your College Search

Thinking of applying to college? Not sure what type of college or major is best for you? Wondering about the differences between public vs. private colleges or between a small liberal arts school and a large state school? Want to know college application deadlines? Curious to learn what those college admissions and financial aid terms mean?

We’re here to help.

BigFuture  gives students free, comprehensive resources to plan for life after high school. Make personalized college lists, explore careers, save scholarship searches, and compare college costs at

Starting Your College Search

One of the first steps in the college planning process is to explore colleges. With thousands of choices, it's hard to know where to begin. Take these five steps to kick off your college search and start building a list.

  1. Open up a discussion with your family, guardian, school counselor, or teacher about your interests and goals. Find out how you can start building a network and create a mentor/mentee relationship for advice and support. Talk to people who’ve been to college and learn about their experience.
  1. Keep an eye out for college brochures and emails in your mailbox and inbox. This information gives you a better understanding of your options and can help you find the school that’s right for you. If you’re not receiving college mail yet, join Student Search Service® to connect with colleges and scholarship programs.  Students who are contacted by colleges through Student Search Service receive, on average, 29% more offers of college admission. To opt in, visit this page, sign into your College Board account, and click “Yes”.
  1. Attend college fairs held at your school, virtually, a nearby conference center, or a local community center. These events are an ideal way to meet college representatives and ask questions about student organizations or dorm life. Make sure to get email addresses so you can send thank-you notes later.
  1. Visit the college’s website and social media accounts to get an idea of what campus life and classes are like. Get a glimpse of a college’s day-to-day life through their Instagram and TikTok accounts—from the comfort of your mobile device. Read 10 ways to learn about colleges online. A perfect way to make sure a college is the best fit for you is to visit the campus, if you are able to. Read The College Campus Tour Checklist  to get the most out of your visit!
  1. Save a list of your favorite colleges on BigFutureSearch by location, majors, type, and more filters to help you find the colleges you’re most interested in. When you are logged into your account, you can save the colleges to a list that you can update throughout high school.

How to Build a College List

Here's a step-by-step guide to create a college list on BigFuture. With our College Search tool, check out individual college profiles based on what’s important to you (e.g., location, majors, cost, test scores). When you find a college that’s a good fit, add it to your list. Edit the list as you explore new college profiles.

When you're viewing a college profile like this one, you'll see:

University of Michigan College Profile BigFuture

  1. This option Add To My List.
  2. Information on the college at a glance, deadlines, majors & learning environment, campus life, applying, paying, and transfer and international student resources.
  3. Costs including the average net price by household income and information about financial aid.

When you add colleges to your list and view them in My Colleges, you'll see:

Screenshot of College List on BigFuture

  1. Quick facts about the colleges, including acceptance rate, average cost after aid, and average SAT Scores.
  2. Option to add more colleges to your list.

What are you waiting for? Start your college search on BigFuture today. We're here for your entire journey—from your first thoughts about college to your first day on campus.

Visit for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.