Tips on Choosing the Right College

Choosing the right college to attend can be a very daunting task for any student wanting to pursue an education after high school. With over 2,800 four-year degree schools and universities in the United States alone, the pressure of selecting the “perfect” school can get overwhelming. The important thing for prospective students to remember, however, is that the college that is perfect for one person may not be perfect for another. This is largely due in part to the many different factors that a student must consider before making their selection. It is very beneficial for students to take into consideration their own personal interests and preferences when making their decision. Understanding what works best for you, will make finding the right fit a much easier and more enjoyable experience.


Students researching a secondary education must take into consideration whether attending a large university, a smaller institution, or a school in between will be most beneficial for their needs. At a small university, classes are often much smaller in size and professors are usually more readily available for help. Recognizing your fellow students and developing deeper relationships with other students is also much easier to do on a smaller campus.

Larger universities may offer more extra-curricular clubs and activities, but the environment tends to be more competitive. Classes are often held in lectures style halls to accommodate the vast number of students. This can make direct contact with a professor a bit more difficult to achieve. Large universities, however, do offer the thrill and excitement of attending athletic programs which promotes school pride. Medium sized schools provide the best of both worlds between large and small schools. Visiting each type of campus is a great way for students to get a good feel for the type of education environment that exists.


Perhaps the most important decision in selecting the right college is considering the type of studies that an institution offers. It is important for students to think about future careers when settling on a major. Many careers require a specialized degree and it’s important for students to make sure the university offers the required major for their desired field. If you are undecided, a school that offers a number of options might be the best fit. Be sure to apply to schools that have two or three of your choices. This will make transferring, or changing majors a more plausible possibility.

Financial Aid / Cost

The price of tuition can be a scary detriment for students looking to select the right college. Thankfully, there are a number of helpful financial resources available to consider. Public or state schools often offer discounted tuitions for students who live within the state. Students may also apply for scholarships that cover part or even the total amount of the tuition costs. Scholarships are offered for a number of programs, from performance arts to sports, giving students with all different talents a fair opportunity. Perhaps the most familiar form of help comes from financial aid. Universities offer assistance in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, employment, and waivers. Grants and scholarships are considered “free money” meaning that students are not required to pay that money back. Loans, waivers and employment however, are referred to as self-aid and must be repaid after graduation. Finances can be a concern for any student, but there is always help. Applying to a combination of public and private colleges can help students keep their options open.


Another factor a prospective student must consider is location. Do you want to stay close to home, or take the step and venture further away? Balancing the combination of school work and a social life can be difficult in a new place, and this is definitely something to consider. Living on campus requires payment in addition to your tuition, and driving to and from school during breaks could make attending a school far away from home a lot more costly. Everyone is different and what works for one student might not be the best option for another. It is important to consider all of the positives and negatives when deciding where to go to school.

Academic Standards

Students can prepare as early as Eighth grade for going to college. There are a number of academic tests that are required by colleges for acceptance. The two most popular tests are known as the SAT Reasoning Test, and the ACT. Students interested in applying for different schools should compare their academic profile and test scores with that of the incoming freshman class. When it comes to academics, it is important to select a balance of opportunities when making your decision. To help with this decision, students can use the “reach,” “target,” and “safety” system. A reach school is a university that shows incoming freshman having a slightly higher academic profile than your own personal scores. A target school is a university that closely matches your academic scores, and finally a safety school is one where your scores average slightly higher than those compared to incoming freshman. By utilizing this system, students provide themselves with more options that will help with making the final decision.

Extra-curricular Activities

College can be a very exciting step in a young adult’s life, providing freedom, fun and responsibility. Many institutions offer extra-curricular activities that can be intriguing to a future student. One of the most important steps in looking at colleges is to visit the campus, and get a feel for the type of environment that exists. Visit a performance, attend a sports game, or even sit in on a class. Doing this will help students to get a better understanding of the college and might help make the decision a simpler one.

Occasionally, students will choose a college based on an athletic or academic scholarship that they have been offered. This can be extremely beneficial, but it is also very important for students to consider the academic prestige of the college in addition to the athletic or extra-curricular activities that may be offered. Students can learn more about college athletics by speaking with the team’s coach or interacting with potential teammates who are already on the team. It is important to remember that most athletic scholarships do not provide full coverage, so applying to more than one university will help broaden your choices.

Things to Cover When Visiting Campus

After completing all of the applications, standardized tests, and research one of the final steps before making a decision involves visiting the university’s campus. Students should try to get a feel for the environment that they soon might be living in. Does the environment feel welcoming? Do the people seem friendly and personable? Nerves can be frightening at first, but students can get a much better idea of the way things work by visiting and speaking with current professors and students. Asking questions will help paint a picture in the students mind, making it clear if they can envision themselves there. Many colleges look at the amount of interaction students have had with their institution and use this in their decision process. So if possible, students should try to attend events and gain insight from alumni and current students. The more interest you show will help prove to the admissions counsel that you are extremely interested in the university.

Additional Resources

  • Some Things To Consider – This article has some wonderful insight on topics to consider before making a final decision on what college to attend.
  • Guide to Choosing the Right College (PDF) – A guide from Lock Haven University offering some tips on choosing the right college for you.
  • Selecting a College for Students with Learning Disabilities – This educational article provides advice for students with disabilities in selecting the best college. The article has information on legal rights, when to begin planning, and identifying desirable characteristics of a college.
  • Get Ready For College – This website from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education provides advice on choosing and applying to the right college.
  • Living with a Roommate – An article from DeSales University with information on how to successfully live with a roommate.
  • 5 Tips on Living with a College Roommate – This resource from the Australian Education site offers five tips for living with a new college roommate.
  • Selecting the Right College – This comprehensive article suggests some important questions to ask when looking for the right university to attend, with information on academics, attending college fairs, and finding the right fit.
  • The Different Types of Colleges – This article from the University of North Texas explains the different types of colleges that students can choose from.
  • Common Myths about Choosing a Major – This Penn State page offers some common myths for students about choosing a major with examples of why these ideas are wrong.
  • Prospective Students Preparing for College – The undergraduate admissions program of Vanderbilt University provides information for students on preparing for college and what each specific grade should concentrate on doing.
  • Students Preparing by Grade – This article from the University of Southern California gives students the option to view college preparation tips by grade, starting from 8th grade and expanding through 12th grade.
  • Guide for Parents: Ten Steps to Prepare Your Child for College – This parental guide from the American Council on Education discusses the specific help parents can give to their children in order to prepare them for college.
  • Preparing for College: An Online Tutorial – This article from the University of Washington offers some helpful information along with some additional resources for students transitioning from high school to college.
  • An Introduction to Preparing for College – This resource list from the Postsecondary Education Commission provides students with information on all of the different factors that should be taken into consideration when either planning for, or attending college. Some of the topics covered include financial planning, standardized testing, and career planning.
  • National Institute of Health: Preparing for College – This resource offers advice for students on how to prepare for college early on in their education, including information on the different standardized tests, and planning out payment options.
  • Parent’s Resource: Preparing a Child Academically for College – This extensive article educates parents on the academic courses that are beneficial for students interested in pursuing a secondary education. 
  • Going to College? – This fantastic governmental site gives students a number of helpful resources to aid in planning, visiting, or applying for college.

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