Picking the Right College

Where you go to college is as much up to you, the applicant, as it is up to the college. Although college acceptances are ultimately up to the colleges themselves, you have done the preliminary work of selecting colleges that fit with your wants and needs. Colleges work to be appealing to you, the prospective student, just as you work to be appealing to them. Think of the university research and admissions process as a two-way interview; both you and the college are trying to determine whether the other is a good fit for you.  

What College is Right for Me?

Start your search by deciding what’s important to you in a college. Once you have this list, you’ll be able to accurately assess whether or not specific colleges would be a good fit for you. Don’t be tempted to start by making a list of universities and try to alter your list of priorities to match the school, no matter how prestigious it is or how many of your friends are applying. Maintain the mindset of auditioning the college; if it meets your requirements, you can proceed. If not, it hasn’t made the cut.

Things to Consider When Choosing a College

  • Academics

    Often the first thing on people’s minds when they consider a college is the academic style and rigor of the school. Someone interested in rigorous academics will apply to very different schools than someone interested in more relaxed academics and more social opportunities. Also factor in the teaching style of the school; if you do well in large lectures, you’ll apply to different schools than someone who values low student-to-faculty ratios and small class sizes. And, last but not least, consider whether the schools to which you’re applying have academic programs that interest you.

  • Location

    Consider distance from home, weather, the feel of the college town, proximity to big cities and job opportunities when deciding between colleges. None of these things should be the sole determinant of your college selections, but they can play a role in narrowing down your list of schools. 

  • Cost

    While there are plenty of resources available to help you pay for college, be they scholarships, grants, or loans, cost is still a factor for many people when deciding between universities. If you anticipate the need to work during college, as many students do, consider the campus employment opportunities during your college search. You can almost always find custodial, food service, and maintenance jobs, but look into undergraduate TA, university broadcasting, campus tour and marketing, and research assistant positions, as well.

  • College Life

    The social aspect of university life is extremely important, as it will play a huge role in your overall happiness as a college student. Consider whether or not a school has an active Greek Life, school-sponsored extracurriculars such as intramurals, and clubs.  

  • Diversity, religious affiliation, sports, etc.

    There are so many more things to consider when weighing college options, including religious affiliation, diversity on campus, sports, and others. The bottom line is, decide what brings you joy and fulfillment in your life and factor that into the college search process.

How to Choose the Right College

Do Your College Research

Once you’ve worked through the list above and made decisions about what’s important to you in a college, begin your preliminary research. Look up college lists, books, and college websites to find out admissions requirements, major and course offerings, tuition, housing options, class size, ranking, student demographics, study abroad opportunities, and where students end up post-graduation. 

Take the ACT or SAT

Your test scores will help determine whether a school is a good fit for you. Schools that require a higher SAT or ACT score will be more academically rigorous than those who require a low score. Once you’re confident you’ve done your best on the SAT and/or ACT, use your score information to determine what schools will be a good academic match for you.

Attend College Fairs and Visit Colleges

Find a local college fair or schedule an on-campus tour to learn more about specific colleges. Keep an open mind as you talk to representatives from universities, and don’t immediately write any school off because it wasn’t on your original list. Ask questions about the things important to you in a college to get an idea of whether each school would be a good fit for you. 

Talk to Guidance Counselors, Teachers, Parents, and Other People You Trust

Talking through your college choices with people you trust can help you decide what’s important to you and narrow down your options. They know you, and many of them have had their own college experiences, so they’ll be able to offer you good advice. 

Listen to Your Gut

In the end, make a decision based on what feels right. Go to college somewhere you’re excited about, and be confident in your decision. You’ve done the research; trust yourself to make the right call.