Peter Hutchens was a lot like many other high school students conducting a college search. After taking a standardized test his sophomore year, he started wondering what college life would be like. He'd flip through those colorful brochures that began flooding his mailbox. And, like others, Peter went to his family and God for advice and direction.
But Peter, currently a sophomore at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, faced an additional obstacle: He was thousands of watery miles away from every college he was considering. Because of his father's job, Peter had to conduct most of the search from his home in the Philippines. Nearly every part of his search, from beginning to end, had to be done long-distance—which made college fairs, frequent campus visits, on-site scholarship competitions, and multiple phone calls to admission counselors impossible.
"The fact that I was so far away did make me feel a little more isolated. I had to lean not so much on my own understanding, but on God in directing me," he says. "When my friends in the States were visiting a bunch of different schools, it was harder for me be cause I had to trust more and plan ahead for those kinds of opportunities."
Even if you're in the same country as the colleges you're considering, searching can be difficult. Just ask Tara Miner, a senior at Evangel University in Spring field, Missouri. Although she'd heard about various colleges at church conventions and seen Christian college ads in magazines, Tara wrestled long and hard with God's will in regard to college. Upon high school graduation, she still didn't have any clear direction. So she decided to postpone the decision for a year.
"During the months after high school, I learned more about myself and about what I wanted to do," she says. "As I did my search, I learned a lot, like how to be more independent. God taught me to wait and that everything would click in his time."
The decision turned out to be an easier one for Aaron Shaul and Kimberly Grinols. In fact, Aaron undertook the early stages of his search without even realizing it.
Step 1: Start Early
During his high school years, Aaron, a junior at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, attended leadership conferences and other extracurricular functions at various colleges. So by the end of his senior year, he'd racked up unofficial visits to about 10 schools. This in formal start made the rest of the search process much easier.
"You can get a feel for the school's atmosphere by visiting," he said. "It came down to the broad choices of a state university or studying at a Christian college. That was kind of the dividing line. I saw the value and importance of education at a Christian school."
Kimberly Grinols, a sophomore at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, had a fairly good idea of what college life was like, even before she began her search. The daughter of a professor and a resident of a college town, Kimberly had always been comfortable in a collegiate setting. But that didn't stop her from beginning her search early—as a sophomore. She researched schools through college guidebooks, websites and other resources.
"I didn't want to sit down with books and read," she says. "I wanted to go out with my friends and be a high schooler." But as Kimberly began to compare school listings, she realized she was learning a lot from her research—and liking it, too.
"I really liked sitting down and reading the pro files of the colleges," she says. "I read a lot of different profiles, just to get a feel for what's available. Start early, start early, start early, because then you have time for mistakes. The time you spend researching will be worth it."
Step 2: Slash the List