How to Search for Colleges

A guide toThis is, admittedly, the most exciting part of the college process. You get to figure out what types of schools you are drawn to, and create a “colleges to visit” list. There are many characteristics to consider, so let’s begin!new-york-14480_640

One of the most basic–yet most important–factors to consider is school size. What type of environment do you thrive in? Maybe you love the hustle and bustle of a city. Or maybe quiet, surrounding countryside is your cup of tea. Whatever your preference may be, it will start you on the right path. For me, a large school was almost out of the equation. I went to a large high school, and soon discovered that I thrived in an environment much like my small middle school. Once I knew this, I was able to use it as one of my criteria in college search engines.

There are many types of search engines out there. Some high schools partner with individual companies (Naviance, for example), but oftentimes it is helpful to browse around multiple search engines. With the exception of Naviance, my favorite college search engines include Cappex and Niche. These websites allow you to search for colleges based on type (two year or four year), size, location, degree offerings, and more.

Niche Basic College Search Engine
Niche Basic College Search Engine

They are great for creating a “colleges to visit” list. Both websites also have student reviews (which really come in handy when you are making the final decision!), and scholarship listings. They are great websites to browse through, no matter where you are in the entire process.

When creating a “colleges to visit” list, it is important to include a few different types of schools. Even if you are drawn to small schools, add a few larger schools into the mix just to ensure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities. When I was visiting colleges my intuition was usually right, however, oftentimes I was pleasantly surprised by schools I didn’t think I would enjoy. The bottom line: keep your options open. 🙂 old-bicycle-825724_1280

In my next post, I will show you how to navigate the most confusing of college websites. As always, please comment below with any comments, questions, or suggestions of your own!

©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.


Standardized Testing: A How-To

How to prepare forStandardized testing. Two words that you will be all too familiar with by the time you are a junior in high school. The journey that is preparing for these exams begins your freshman year, and continues through the fall of your senior year. Standardized tests are an inescapable necessity, so it is best to begin preparing for them with lots of time to spare. 

The best way to start preparing for these exams is to learn what each one entails. The SAT® is an exam that is usually taken on a Saturday at a national testing center. These centers vary by state, but many include local high schools and universities. The ACT®, on the other hand, is usually required to be taken at your high school in the spring of your junior year. You may retake both exams at local testing centers, but it is important to know that there are typically testing fees associated with this. For this reason, it is best to be as prepared as possible before your first exam.

So how should you go about preparing for these exams? Well, the first step is to take the PSAT exam. The PSAT is a–you guessed it–practice SAT exam. This exam will show you what topics and question types you need to improve on before you take the real SAT. And the best part? The score does not appear on any record, so there is no reason to be afraid of taking it. I recommend taking the PSAT in the fall of your freshman and sophomore years, because it is a way to see if what you have been working on has improved your score. And like I said before, it is a risk-free way to figure out if your studying techniques are working! Once you have your PSAT scores back, you will know where to start.

One of the best ways to start is to come up with a score goal. Maybe you are happy with your score from the PSAT, and you just want to work to maintain that score on the real exam. Or maybe you want to raise your score by 500 points. Whatever the case is, setting a goal is really important! This gives you the motivation to study, and allows others to help you reach your goal by adjusting study techniques to your needs. There are a few ways to go about preparing for these exams. One way is to purchase the official SAT and ACT test books. These books include many practice exercises and tips, as well as several full-length tests. By using these books, you can make sure that you won’t run into any surprises on the test day. Another way is to take a prep class. These classes can be online or in person, and can really help you to reach your goal. I took an SAT prep class through Sylvan Learning, and my score improved by 300 points! The best part about this class was that it made me sit down and study for two hours per week. And I had access to instant help whenever I got stuck! I highly recommend taking a class if you are someone with a busy schedule, because it makes you schedule in study time.

I took the SAT in 2013. Now, coming in March 2016 there will be many changes made to the exam. For example, there will no longer be a penalty for guessing. In addition, SAT is now partnering with Khan Academy to provide students with unique test prep online. You can learn more about their partnership here. The ACT is remaining the same, with a score range between 1 and 36 and no penalty for guessing. I highly recommend taking the ACT Plus Writing exam, as some colleges and universities will not accept the regular ACT exam.

My biggest tip for you on these exams is making sure you make the time to study. Standardized tests are not all that a college considers for admission, but having good scores can give you a competitive advantage. Below are links to where you can find more information about the exams (and register for them). Good luck! 🙂

The new SAT


Khan Academy

Sylvan Learning



©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.


How to Choose High School Classes

The coursework you choose to pursue in high school sets the stage for your college future, and regardless of the curriculum that your high school offers, colleges want to see that you challenged yourself academically. Some high schools offer only college preparatory (college prep) classes, while others offer college prep, AP®, and IB® classes. The most common course course offerings in U.S. high schools are college prep and AP. IB is less common, but has many similarities to AP. Most freshman ask themselves “what classes should I take and why?”, and don’t often get a straightforward answer. In this post, I hope to explain a few answers to this question in detail.

To start, I will explain the differences in each class type. College prep classes follow a curriculum that is designed to prepare you for the rigor and expectations of college classes. You leave high school prepared for your freshman year courses in college. AP classes both prepare you for college and have the potential to provide you with college credits. AP classes are designed to be on par with college courses, and as such you are given the opportunity to test out and receive credit. When you take an AP exam, you are scored on a five point scale, five being almost perfect. Most colleges offer class credit for a score of four or five, and some even offer credit for a score of three! The benefit of these classes is that they prepare you for college classes and let you skip certain college classes (such as freshman year writing courses). Last but not least are IB classes. IB stands for International Baccalaureate, and is a program of classes offered around the world (whereas AP is just in the U.S.). IB classes also offer exams (graded on a seven point scale), though not all colleges accept them for credit. books-690219_1280

“So what are the advantages of each?” you may be asking. Well, that depends on the type of student you are. If you are a student athlete, chances are you spend a lot of your time at practices and games. In this way, college prep classes allow you to maintain a high GPA (Grade Point Average) while also being prepared for your college classes. AP and IB classes often require more time than an athlete can give in order to be successful. However, athletes can often take one or two AP or IB classes and do well, but they should steer clear of overloading their schedule with these classes. Similarly, students who are involved in clubs and intramural activities may want to limit how many AP or IB classes are in their schedule. Freshman year is the perfect time to explore what class combination works best for your personal situation. Your counselor will also have recommendations!

In short, what classes you choose to take depends on your high school schedule and your college ambitions. All classes will prepare you for college, and it is important to find balance between academics and extracurriculars. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions of your own please leave them below. 🙂lockers-94959_640

To learn more about the AP program click here, and click here to learn more about the IB program.

©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.


Where and When to Start the College Process

Believe it or not, everyone begins their college application journey their freshman year of high school. Now, you might be thinking “Not everyone starts the college process so soon”, but the college application process has as much to do with high school as it does with college. Your high school course choices set the tone for your future interests, and some even allow you to earn college credits. In that way, the first step of the college process is selecting your freshman year courses. In my next post I will discuss the typical types of courses available, as well as my experience with each.

There is not a necessary year in which to begin the college process, but in general the earlier you start, the better. Beginning the college process is as simple as planning out how you are going to go through the process. Drafting up a plan is very helpful as many aspects of the process must be completed prior to your junior year of high school, such as standardized test preparation. Below, I will outline and explain how I went through the process during my four years of high school. Remember, there is no one way to go through the process! My outline is meant to provide you with ideas and inspiration for your own plan. 🙂

My freshman year, I discussed course options with my counselor, and chose to take Pre-IB classes and other accelerated courses. During the summer before my freshman year, I became a volunteer at my local hospital. I loved it so much that I continued volunteering once per week up until August 12th, 2015. Being a part of that community for five years has changed my life for the better. In the fall of both my freshman and sophomore years I took the PSAT through my school in order to assess where I needed improvement. During my sophomore year, I took an SAT/ACT exam preparation course. Not only did this course help me to prepare for these exams, but it made me prepare for them. Without a structured course, I probably would not have studied nearly as much as I did with one. I also visited out-of-state colleges and continued these visits through my junior year. During my junior year I took the official SAT and ACT exams, and completed all of my elective courses so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them my senior year. When my senior year came, I completed my applications before winter break and before I knew it it was time to make the big decision!

My school also offered access to a program called Naviance Family Connection. This program allows you to explore your interests and career matches, as well as colleges and scholarships. Many high schools offer programs such as Naviance to their students for free! I encourage you to see what your school offers, as this is an excellent way to start figuring out what type of schools and careers are best suited for you!

Though everyone’s college process journey is different, I hope that this post has given you ideas for when and where to start your own process. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them below!

©2015 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.

Visit my Pinterest page for more college suggestions and resources! 


Introduction to College Application Series

Introduction to College Application Series

Now that I have finished the entire college application process, I am realizing just how much I learned over the years. My college story is slightly unconventional—I started looking at colleges during my freshman year of high school. And I have come to realize that the entire college process is, well, complicated. But it doesn’t have to be!

I wanted to start this series in order to share my advice, my experiences, and my mistakes (and what I have learned from them!) in the hopes that I can help at least one person. The college search and application process is long and complex, but I hope to simplify it into several steps to make it both easier to follow and less daunting.

This series will have ten posts, starting with how (and when) to start the process, and ending with the second semester of senior year. I hope that this series is helpful for some of you, and feel free to comment below with questions or suggestions of your own!

You can access the first post in the series here


Alyssa DeBella

21 | Lifestyle blogger | Minimalist | Dreamer ✨| Language Lover 💕| Animal Obsessed ❤️🐶| Double Major 📚| Vegan 🌱 |Traveler ✈️ (currently in: Europe)
Follow by Email1k

Blogger Babes are Sophisticated Bloggers Seeking Simple Solutions and Support


Wise Willow Moments @wisewillowblog