Choosing the Right School

Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions that you will make in your life. You want to make sure that it suits you in as many ways as possible academically, socially, and financially. With thousands of colleges and universities scattered throughout the United States, choosing the right school requires more than just a few Internet searches. There’s not one exact way to go about it. Every person will approach the process slightly differently. But there are some dos and don’ts that you can follow to make the process of choosing the right school easier.

Don’t procrastinate. Whether you are interested in two schools or twenty schools, it’s important to give yourself enough time to have conversations, explore and make a decision about where you want to apply.

Applying to college doesn’t have to be a decision you make entirely on your own. Sometimes talking to your family can help you narrow down choices your choices. Especially when it comes to the financial part of college — you want input on what will is feasible for you and your family. Choosing a college is ultimately your choice, but involving your support system strengthens your decision and makes you feel better at the end of the process.

Many students have seen and read rankings in magazines and on the Internet. One of the most famous is the list compiled by U.S. News & World Report. There is good information in this publication, and it can aid you in the process. However, under no circumstances should you use the rankings as the only basis for your selections. Name recognition is important, but if you apply to the school with that as the only reason, you risk missing out on finding a school that can give you the right experience. Aim for good fit — not just prestige.

Determine if the institution has what you want academically. Pick schools that fit your interests and the subjects you want to study. Begin by narrowing down what majors you’re interested in, but don’t forget things like advising, research opportunities, internship opportunities, and networking. Every college and university provides a list of majors and programs on their site.

Determine if the institution has what you want socially (non-academically). College is all about ensuring that you succeed academically. But you should also have fun and engage outside the classroom. Extracurricular activities, organizations and athletics can vary greatly from place to place, so it’s important to look visit and learn about what student life is like outside of the classroom.

Determine if the university is affordable for you. Try to gauge the full cost of attending an institution. Universities are required to maintain a net price (cost) calculator on their website, that will allow you to customize an estimate of the full cost of attendance. Also, consider in-state versus out-of-state tuition and any specific scholarships you may qualify for at the university.

Visit School Websites

Head on over to the college or university’s official website and browse around. Look at what’s offered and what kinds of activities are happening on campus to see if you can picture yourself fitting in. Want to get the best picture possible? Schedule a visit at the schools you’re interested in and see exactly how you feel on campus.

If you’re on this site, you’re already on the right track. The college search process is a journey and will take a while to complete. Many print and online resources are available to aid you in the search process. There are books that compile pertinent information about a school’s stats, features, and sometimes insider info from current students. You can find them at bookstores, and even at the library. Online, the College Board site has a great tool that allows you to input different factors such as location, size, cost, majors, etc. The site then renders a list of schools that match your specified criteria. Your high school counselors can help a lot, too.