Navigating the college search is no simple task — FranklyStein

Sibs York WAs I'm sending my oldest off to college next week, I'm also scrambling to find schools to take my twins to visit.

I don't have five seconds to pat myself on the back for successfully getting one child into college because I'm already behind the eight ball with the next two — who are now seniors in high school.

The college process is daunting. Around this time last year, I went to a meeting for senior parents at my daughter's high school and had a panic attack because we hadn't looked at enough schools. During the meeting, I madly texted all three of my kids asking what day that week they were free for a college visit. As it turns out, we visited the school that my daughter will be attending. She wasn't thrilled about that visit but it ended up being her favorite. It was a lucky last-minute trip.

Now I'm in the same boat as last year — in a bit of a panic. My son is easy. He can see himself at every college we've visited so far and has set his sights on a totally reasonable state school. My younger daughter, however, is less decided. She wants to keep looking but doesn't know where she wants to look. So once again, I'm scrambling to find colleges to look at, at the last minute.

If you want to avoid a similar panic, check out our guide to the college search for high schoolers. It has a great list of things to focus on each year, from planning high school classes as a freshman to narrowing down choices as a senior.

I really liked the point about looking beyond big-name schools and finding the hidden gems. My daughter wants a small school, and we need a school that will likely give her a sizable merit scholarship. I started checking out one of the websites listed — Colleges That Change Lives — and found a few schools that could possibly work.

I wish I had read the article sooner. Maybe we would have narrowed our focus when they were sophomores instead of seniors, but I doubt it. Back then, neither had any clue what they were looking for. Even now, it's hard to get my daughter to actually pull up a website and look — much less plan a visit.

My hope is that this time next year, I'll be writing about how my oldest had a successful first year and her siblings are happily heading off to their schools of choice.

I'll let you know how it goes. I'm sure there are a few panicked texts and last-minute college visits in my future before we settle on the right fit.

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FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Life editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 18, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 12.