Six Criteria for Choosing your College
As your high school years come to a close, you may be starting to think about choosing a college. The options can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not quite sure about a potential major or future career path. You may feel pressure to make the right choice for such an important step in your life. Fortunately, you can make your decision easier by asking yourself some key questions, including:
- What type of setting and academic programs will best match my goals?
- Do I want to focus on colleges near me, or am I willing to move away?
- How much does university culture matter to me?
- What are the costs, and will I need financial aid?
- Do I have a reasonable chance of being accepted?
To begin answering these questions and moving forward in your selection process, consider the following criteria for choosing the best school for you both personally and academically.
Small, medium or large
The first consideration is size, and your choice will be based largely on your personality and preferences. Does the idea of being a small fish in a massive pond overwhelm you? If so, you might want to consider a smaller school with a more intimate atmosphere. You have an array of choices here, from small, private schools through huge flagship universities.
Location and setting
A major question to ask is “Do I want to attend a college near me?” Proximity to family and high school friends will have a significant impact on your college experience and depends, again, on your personality and preferences. You’ll also need to choose between urban and rural environments, both of which have their advantages. Your college will be where you live as well as study, so choose an environment you’ll enjoy.
Academics and affiliations
Spend some time researching academic programs and areas of specialization for any college on your list. These questions can guide you in getting the information you need for a sound decision:
- Is the school devoted more to teaching, research or some of each?
- Is there a specialty in a specific area for which the school is known?
- Is there a religious affiliation?
- Is the school public or private?
- What majors are offered?
- What is the student-to-faculty ratio and typical class size?
- Is the school accredited, and by whom?
- Can the school serve as a feeder if you plan to attend grad school?
Before getting your heart set on a particular college or university, learn about the admission requirements to ensure that you have a good chance for acceptance. Find out about:
- Application deadlines.
- Typical test scores, class rank and GPA.
- Any required tests.
- Other special requirements.
Campus and activities
Remember that you’ll be spending at least four years of your life at your college or university, and you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable with the activities, housing and other aspects of daily campus life. In your research, try to learn answers to the following:
- What are the types and availability of housing?
- Can you expect to live on-campus?
- What types of activities are offered, including clubs and athletics?
- What’s the makeup of the student body?
- Are the campus and surrounding community considered safe?
Cost and financial aid
Don’t assume you can’t afford a certain college simply because of the sticker price. There are many options out there for scholarships and various forms of financial aid. Be sure to check out all the online resources for colleges you’re interested in, and talk with your school guidance counselor about the possibility of scholarships.
Some Useful College Research Resources
As you embark on your research to find the perfect college for you, you’ll no doubt come across many potential sources of helpful information. Here are a few to get you started:
- Bigfuture by the College Board — a great all-around college finder tool with thousands of schools in its database
- U.S. News & World Report — “College Personality Quiz” to help you find a school where you’ll feel comfortable
- College View – checklist style college search tool
- Bigfuture — “Finding Your College Fit.” Let’s you examine your choices from many different perspectives
- The ACT — “Why Go to College?” provides a range of helpful college selection topics and tools
Before Starting your College Search
Choosing the right college is one of the most important — and most personal — decisions you’ll make in life. Take some time to think about what you hope to get out of your college experience. What are your goals? Your strengths and weaknesses? Will you feel most comfortable being near family, or are you ready for independence? You know yourself best. By listening to your inner voice and using concrete criteria to guide you, the right college will come into view.