For Katherine Jardine, a 2003 graduate of Nathan Hale High, finding the perfect college was as easy as turning a page. Flipping through a college guidebook in her junior year...

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For Katherine Jardine, a 2003 graduate of Nathan Hale High, finding the perfect college was as easy as turning a page.

Flipping through a college guidebook in her junior year, she happened upon a line something like this: “Outcasts from high school can usually be found at Evergreen State College.”

Jardine was hooked. She read on about how Evergreen students craft their own course of study, receive no letter grades and are generally self-motivated. “After that, I didn’t even bother applying to any other schools,” says the Evergreen sophomore, then adds with a laugh, “Fortunately, I got in.”

Finding a good college fit isn’t so easy for most. By the start of senior year, many kids still haven’t a clue where they want to go.

In Washington state, their choices range from urban, two-year Seattle Central Community College to farmland-surrounded Central Washington University in Ellensburg, and just about everything in between.

Outside the state? There are schools as big as the University of Minnesota (64,000 students) and as tiny as Deep Springs College in Bishop, Calif. (26 students). There are women’s colleges and traditionally black schools and even schools filled with what one college guide calls “clove-smoking vegetarians.” In all, more than 4,000 possibilities in the U.S.

So how do you choose? Here’s some step-by-step advice from local counselors:

1. Relax.

“There isn’t just one school in the world that’s right for you,” says Wendy Krakauer, a counselor at Roosevelt High. “There are a whole lot of them.”

2. Search your soul
about who you are and who you want to become, how you learn best and where you want to live.
See our list of questions to ask yourself when picking a college.


Check college-guide Web sites

such as the College Board’s ( — one of several that will feed you a list of possible college picks based on your answers to an online questionnaire.

If, say, you’re seeking a medium-size public school in the West with a rural setting, a rowing team, services for the hearing-impaired and a price tag under $5,000 a year, the site will bring up The Evergreen State College in Olympia and Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.

4. Research the “personality” of schools

to get an idea if you’ll feel at home. Some colleges are known for their Greek party scene, others for their political activism, their rah-rah football spirit or their racial diversity. Guide books can get you started. For capsule descriptions of Northwest colleges, see our regional-school snapshots.

5. Read the school’s Web site

to get a better feel for what campus life might be like, check to see if it has a student newspaper you can read online, and chat with the school’s representative at a college fair. (See our schedule of local college fairs.)

6. Talk to students at the school.

If you don’t know any, call the college switchboard and ask for a residence-hall front desk, the student newspaper or a student-government office. Most students are happy to share their impressions.

7. Visit your top choices,

if possible.

8. Apply to enough schools to cover your bases.

“A rule of thumb is six,” Roosevelt’s Krakauer says: “A couple of schools you’d love to go to but your chances are slim; a couple of schools you have a decent chance of getting into; and a couple you know you can get into.”

And consider including at least one local school.

Linda Jacobs, who counsels students at the private Northwest School and runs her own college-placement practice, requires this of students. That’s to accommodate possible life events — a student falling in love and refusing to leave town, perhaps, or a parent’s sudden illness or job loss.