Finding the right college can be stressful. Much is at stake, and you don’t want to make the wrong decision! We get it. We talk to thousands of students every year who are on the same quest to find the college that is just right for them.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be stressful if you take the time to consider up front what you’re looking for. Narrowing down what matters most to you when choosing a school can help simplify the process. Let’s take a look at some factors that commonly impact the college decision.
Type of College
The first step is to figure out what kind of college you want to attend. Are you looking for a two-year degree that you can earn at a community college or a four-year bachelor's degree?
Four-year colleges and universities come in several shapes and sizes. One key distinction is private versus public. Private, nonprofit colleges and universities are funded by private sources (e.g. gifts) and tuition and fees from students. Public universities are funded by local and state taxes and tuition and fees from students.
Some private institutions have a religious affiliation, such as Catholic or Lutheran. There are also colleges just for men and others just for women. Liberal arts colleges provide a broad education in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences—there’s something for everyone!
There are colleges with fewer than 100 students and universities with over fifty thousand students—and everything inbetween. School size is important to consider.
Large schools can offer the most majors and extracurricular activities, but you aren’t as likely to have direct, easy access to your professors.
Ideally, you should visit schools of different sizes to see what feels right and comfortable to you. With each visit, find the answers to the factors important to you. How far would you have to walk to get from your dorm to your class or to the cafeteria? How much does the school use teaching assistants? And so on.
Location, Location, Location
Here are some things to think about when it comes to location:
- How close (or how far away) do you want to be from home?
- Do you want an urban setting or a small college town feel?
- Is it important to be close to nature and outdoor activities?
- Do you want to stay in your home state or explore other parts of the country?
Ultimately, many traditional college students spend a lot of time on campus, so it’s also important to find out what services, entertainment, food, etc., is available right on campus.
It’s possible you’re totally flexible when it comes to location, type of school, and size. If that’s the case, think about what you value and what interests you—and then look for colleges that match your values and interests.
A good place to start is a college’s mission statement and list of majors, minors, and programs. Do you care about sustainability? If so, see what colleges are doing in that regard. Are you 100% sure you want to study computer science? Then look at schools that offer this major. (Just know that many students change their minds, so don’t lock yourself into a program.)
You will experience the best college fit if the learning environment matches your style of learning and academic ambitions. How do you fit academically at a given school? Does it seem like students also have time for a social life and engage in meaningful extracurricular activities? If you’re interested in graduate school, how does the college prepare you for this?
Fortunately, there is more than just one right school for you—you will thrive at a number of colleges or universities. So don’t fret, it’ll work out. We’re cheering for you!
If you want to explore this topic further, check out this College Search Step-by-Step guide by the CollegeBoard. It’s informative and fun.