Choosing the right college is essential if you want to achieve your personal and professional goals. And while it’s up to each individual to determine which factors are most important for them, there are ways to narrow down your college list, no matter your lifestyle and overall goals.
We’ll explore how to compare colleges and what to look for when choosing the perfect one for you!
How Do I Know Which College to Choose?
Choosing a college takes time and effort. Follow these four steps to help narrow down your decision and feel good about it.
List Out Your Top Choices
First, sit down with your parents or academic advisor to start writing a list of colleges you might be interested in attending. You can include private schools, public schools, local schools, and out-of-state schools.
Ultimately, you should have around 10-15 schools that align with your goals and interests.
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Decide What You Want From the College
Knowing what you want from your college experience can help whittle that list down. For example, do you want an intimate experience with a background in liberal arts? Or would you prefer a Big 10 experience with a lively campus and large student body?
Tour the Campuses
Most colleges offer online tours so that you can learn about their degree programs, check out their professors and staff, and view the campus, dorms, classrooms, etc. While viewing them in person is preferable, it’s not always an option when considering schools outside your state.
If you can tour them in person, ask lots of questions, grab a bite in the cafeteria, walk through the on-campus housing, and see if you can speak to some professors in your field of study.
Compare Financial Aid Options
After you apply, you’ll have to wait for more than an acceptance letter—you’ll also need to view your financial aid award letter. In addition to government-backed college funding, you can receive financial aid from individual colleges.
If cost is a factor, you can evaluate each school’s financial aid award letters to compare annual costs and look for the schools that offer the best financial aid packages.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right College
Every student has varying interests, needs, and wants. Consider these seven factors to choose the right college for you.
The College’s Location
The school’s location is a top determining factor for many college students. Why? Because if you stay in your state to attend a public college, you can save a lot of money with in-state tuition.
It also reduces travel costs and means you don’t have to leave your family.
However, you also need to consider if you’d rather attend a small, rural town college, a school in a large city, or something in between.
Smaller college towns can offer a better sense of community, allowing you to build lasting, strong relationships. On the other hand, colleges in large cities give you more access to cultural and social activities, internships, etc.
The Available Majors
If you know which academic path you want to take, you must ensure the college you choose fits into that pathway. Not all schools will offer the majors you want—be sure to take that into account!
However, if you are still determining your overall academic goals, consider looking into colleges that offer a wide array of degrees.
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The Academic Quality
No college can offer you the best program in every field—no matter what their marketing team may say! So before you choose a college, do some research into their quality, reputation, etc.
You also want to ensure that the school you choose is accredited and that each academic department is also accredited in its field. For example, if you want a degree in business administration, ensure that the school’s business program is accredited by a professional association.
The School’s Size
Colleges come in all sizes—whether it’s a massive state university with hundreds of thousands of students, a small liberal arts college with a few hundred students, or anything in between.
Small schools won’t offer as many programs as larger ones, but they may offer more specialized degrees and better hands-on opportunities. They also have smaller class sizes which can mean you have better access to support from professors and advisors.
However, a larger university may be best if you have clear goals and interests due to its diversity in resources, activities, and classes. They also likely have better research facilities, libraries, etc.
The Tuition Costs
As mentioned above, going to a public school in your home state comes with significantly lower tuition rates.
Out-of-state students pay almost three times as much in tuition and fees compared to local, in-state students. Private colleges don’t typically consider residency status but are usually even more expensive than public options.
You also need to consider transportation, supplies, room and board, and various other student fees when choosing a college.
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The Overall Environment
Choosing a college is about more than what happens in the classroom—you also want to think about the campus environment when making your decision. What do you want out of your experience? A solid Greek life, a vibrant art scene, or something else?
If you live and breathe sports, consider looking into colleges with renowned teams to attend games and other related social events. Or maybe you want to focus on academic achievement, in which case you’d want to look at schools with Carnegie Foundation-recognized research facilities.
The Available Resources
Finally, it’s crucial to think about your needs as a person in addition to your needs as a student. Ensure that any school you choose accommodates your requirements—spiritual, medical, or any part of your lifestyle.
Emotional challenges when beginning college are extremely common; you might want to look into the school’s counseling services, wellness programs, etc.
In addition, look into their tutoring programs. The chances are that you won’t be excellent in every subject; what resources does the school offer to help you with challenging classes?
You may also want to consider the school’s career services; will they help you with internships, networking, creating resumes and cover letters, etc.?
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