how to choose a college that’s right for you

how to choose a college that's right for you
how to choose a college that’s right for you

How to Choose a College That’s Right for You
The college application process can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re the type of person who likes to plan out every little detail well in advance. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out everything at once, and you don’t even have to make all your choices right away. There are several steps that should help you make the best choice possible when it comes to selecting the right college for you. Whether you want help with your decision or simply need more information, these four steps will help you choose a college that’s right for you.

SEE How to use the College Scorecard

how to choose a college that’s right for you

7 Steps in Choosing a College

The first step in choosing a college is deciding what you want to get out of your college experience. What are your goals? Do you want an elite university that offers specialized programs or do you simply want a degree from a school that will boost your resume and provide access to networking opportunities? Pick one or two priorities and then make sure any college you consider fits them. This will ensure that even if you can’t attend your dream school, it won’t be because it doesn’t have what you’re looking for.

Next, start looking at colleges based on your priorities. To find schools that meet your criteria, start by searching online. Look at different rankings and review sites like U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review.


Most universities and programs will have their own websites with lots of information about what they offer so you can check out details there as well. You can also see if any universities are recruiting in your area or offering any special programs in your field, which can be an added bonus if you’re pursuing something specialized or studying abroad.

If you’re worried about finding enough information online, visit your local campus or high school guidance counselor’s office. They can often provide you with more details on programs and schools so you can make sure any program you choose is one that will lead to where you want to be after graduation.

Once you’ve done your research, narrow down your list based on what matters most and contact each college directly with any additional questions or concerns. Colleges usually have admissions reps who are happy to answer questions so don’t be afraid to reach out!

After you’ve narrowed down your list, visit each school that made it to your finalist stage. This will give you a chance to explore them and see if they’re really right for you. If one school looks especially promising, apply early and set up an interview with someone who can answer any questions or address any concerns you have.

It can also be helpful to speak with current students if possible so you can get feedback on what life is like at that college once classes start. By going through all these steps in choosing a college, you’ll be able to make sure that no matter which school accepts you, it will be one that meets your needs and interests so studying there will feel like home from day one!

At some point, you may need to weigh multiple factors and consider what’s most important. Use these factors as guidelines when you’re considering schools

SEE How to Demonstrate Financial Need for a Scholarship

how to choose a college that’s right for you

First, Give Yourself Time

The college application process can be a long one. In general, most colleges will want to see your best stuff early on (think: freshman year grades) so that they can make decisions on acceptance before senior year rolls around. If you’re not sure where you’ll be in a few years, take time to consider what you might like to study and how it might fit into your plans after high school.

Your answers may change as you grow older and experience more—and changing your mind is totally fine, as long as it reflects who you are and where you want to go from here. Many students start out thinking they want something specific (like an English degree) but end up deciding on something else entirely by their senior year of high school.

Second, Think About Costs: The cost of college is one of those things that can influence your decision more than you might realize. Scholarships, financial aid and student loans can help alleviate some costs, but ultimately you’ll want to think about how you’ll pay for your education while at school. Keep in mind that just because something is more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it will be better—and vice versa!

Third, Ask: We say it all the time, but ask questions! The college application process can be confusing, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask someone for help. Talk with your parents about finances and their thoughts on different schools—your parents have probably gone through (or are currently going through) college themselves, so they’ll likely have a good idea of what you might like or dislike.

You can also check out our admissions advice section or schedule a call with an admissions counselor at colleges that interest you. Chances are they’d love to hear from you! If nothing else, they should be able to point you in the right direction and help point out important deadlines.

When All Else Fails, Talk to an Expert: No matter how prepared you are, something unexpected can always pop up. If you’re really not sure about what you want out of college or how it will fit into your long-term goals, reach out to one of our experts and we’ll be happy to discuss your options with you.

Our admissions counselors at IvyWise understand that every student is different and that circumstances change—that’s why we offer free, private consultations with IvyWise-trained admissions experts who can help guide you in choosing a school that fits your needs and make sense for your long-term goals.

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to get started. There are many questions you’ll want to consider before applying—from how much financial aid and scholarships might be available, to which classes will fulfill requirements, to which extra-curricular activities can look great on your resume.

Even if you have an idea of where you might want to go (or at least one school in mind), consider saving time by exploring your options online first—this may help give you some ideas that didn’t occur when thinking about them from home. Applying is easier than ever these days, thanks in part to mobile apps that keep everything handy on your phone or tablet!

how to choose a college that’s right for you

how to choose a college that's right for you
how to choose a college that’s right for you

Second, Use Your Resources

Once you’ve narrowed down your selection and are certain that you want to commit, it’s time to begin researching colleges. Contact admissions offices and arrange for an in-person or Skype tour of their campus. Look up alumni networks, review what professors have been publishing, talk with students who are already enrolled and visit social media sites like Twitter or Instagram to learn about campus life. The more you know about potential schools before applying, the better equipped you’ll be at selecting one that is right for you.

If you’re planning on attending college in another country, consider reaching out to students at nearby universities who are studying or have previously studied abroad. These individuals can provide valuable information about their experiences, campus life and safety issues, in addition to helping you navigate new cultural norms. This can be particularly useful if you are looking into international exchange programs because it will help prepare you for your temporary stay and expedite the acclimation process once you arrive.
Third, Research Your Options: Once your list has been narrowed down based on location and program of interest, it’s time to research each university more deeply. Start by looking at course offerings and reading up on majors that interest you.

Next, you’ll want to look at tuition and fees. This can be found on each school’s website, though some may only have estimates until registration starts. Be sure to take note of any additional costs like parking passes or textbook purchases that might not be included in your tuition. The next step is looking into student life.

Take a look at each university’s student newspaper, Twitter accounts and other social media sites to learn about events occurring on campus and see if they’re compatible with your interests. You should also consider student housing options; living on campus can greatly increase your chances of succeeding academically because it promotes community and allows you easy access to activities designed to help you succeed in college.

Fourth, Apply: Applying to college can be time-consuming, so make sure you’re organized. Create lists of important documents such as your transcript and financial aid information, and put together a checklist of everything that still needs to be done. Having all relevant documents prepared will make it easier for you to move through each application step quickly. Many schools provide online applications that allow you complete many steps in one place before printing out forms for more in-depth information, and some schools even allow students to pay their tuition fees online as well.

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how to choose a college that’s right for you

Third, Consider Cost vs. Quality

Students and parents often look at schools’ tuition costs as an important factor when making decisions. While these costs are certainly important, they may not be enough. Ask yourself: What college gives me what I need (quality education), how much it will cost me and where it is located (location)? These three factors should be taken into consideration before committing to a specific school or program.

For instance, you might find that college A is cheaper than college B but offers programs you aren’t interested in. Or you might find that college C has a higher tuition than colleges D, E and F but also has greater resources like better academic and career advisors who can help you make better post-graduation decisions.

Looking at costs is important, but it shouldn’t be your only concern. Ask yourself: What college gives me what I need (quality education), how much it will cost me and where it is located (location)?
Fourth, Consider Professional Networking Opportunities: It can be tempting to skip networking opportunities when you are planning on getting an education far away from home.

This can be a mistake as sometimes these professional networks can help you land your dream job or internship even years after graduation. To make sure that you have access to these networks, look for schools that offer formal mentoring programs between alumni and current students as well as opportunities where alums come back to speak with students about their experiences after graduation.

Fifth, Evaluate Career Options: Looking at schools that offer professional options that match your career goals can be a great help. If you want to pursue graduate or professional school after graduation, look for schools with strong academic support and access to resources that can help you make decisions about what program is right for you.

If you’re looking into specific fields of study and careers, ask about placement statistics on internships and jobs. If these kinds of opportunities are important to you, research which colleges have high post-graduation placement rates in your field of interest and compare them with those that don’t.

When choosing which school is right for you, make sure that you’re looking at as many factors as possible. Don’t make any rash decisions. Consider all of your options, like quality vs. cost, and location vs. career goals. With careful consideration, you’ll be able to choose a college that meets all of your needs and has plenty of opportunities for success after graduation!

A combination of cost, quality and career options is crucial in finding an institution that will provide you with everything you need from your education. Once you’ve made your decision, be sure to find an on-campus job or internship (or post-graduation) so that you can get even more professional networking opportunities!

how to choose a college that’s right for you

Fourth, Understand Rankings

It’s no secret that students and families alike are all-too-often obsessed with rankings. But rankings, in general, aren’t all that helpful: They don’t tell you much about a specific school’s fit or culture. Instead, they focus on simplistic aspects of college life—like student retention rate, acceptance rate and post-graduation salaries—which tells you little about whether or not it will be an effective institution for you. In other words: Look beyond rankings when selecting colleges . You need something more personalized that factors in your unique experiences and interests.

Instead, we recommend reaching out to schools directly. Reach out about:
First, Enroll in an Information Session: Your first step should be speaking with an admissions officer at your top choices of colleges. Once you know what majors and programs are available, it’s time to do your research .

The more information you have—about colleges and programs—the better informed your decision will be. Make sure that you ask questions like:
Fifth, Speak with Financial Aid Officers: Knowing how much college costs is vital when deciding where to enroll—and there’s no better way of figuring that out than talking with financial aid officers.

And lastly, remember: don’t ignore those rankings completely. They are still useful in giving you a general idea of which schools may be better than others. But they shouldn’t be your only focus. Instead, try to gain as much information as possible and then decide which school(s) match your needs best. The bottom line? You can always get great value out of college, regardless of its ranking—as long as it’s right for you.

Third, Conduct an Outreach: A good outreach plan takes time and effort. It will often include multiple contacts within one department or on more than one occasion. The purpose of your outreach should be to build interest in your employer and plant seeds of awareness. As you conduct your outreach, it is imperative that you provide value at every opportunity—and that goes both ways.

Whether you are writing articles, posting videos, speaking at an event or visiting an organization as part of your grassroots campaign, consider doing these three things: First, Make Yourself Known Through Effective Content: Your content can take any form—and doesn’t have to come in written format only.

Use that as your springboard into conversation and maybe another piece of content. Whether it’s on social media, in an email or within your marketing efforts, connecting with key decision makers is essential for your continued growth and success. In today’s ever-growing digital world, it’s important to stay ahead of trends by embracing technology. Even with traditional outreach methods like mailings and phone calls, take advantage of channels like Skype and email. Not only will you save time but also money—by eliminating travel costs.

how to choose a college that’s right for you

Fifth, Visit Campuses

The bulk of your time should be spent visiting colleges and universities, during which you will come up with more questions that need answering. Visit different types of schools—public, private, big and small—to learn what fits your budget, interests and career goals. Ask admissions officials what they look for in applicants; ask students who are similar to you how they got involved on campus; talk to professors about potential fields of study.

In between visits, spend some time researching each school’s graduation rate, admission rate and academic reputation by checking out its U.S. News ranking or general web presence (such as parent university websites). Think about which schools appeal most to you at first glance—and why? Don’t hesitate to change your mind as you keep researching different options.

A more direct comparison of selectivity and admissions rate is available from Peterson’s Undergraduate Admissions Selectivity Scores, which are released annually in June. The report also offers application statistics by school for SAT/ACT test dates and provides an easy side-by-side comparison of selectivity across schools. The rankings take into account total undergraduate enrollment, acceptance rate, average high school GPA and SAT/ACT score.

A more direct comparison of selectivity and admissions rate is available from Peterson’s Undergraduate Admissions Selectivity Scores, which are released annually in June. The report also offers application statistics by school for SAT/ACT test dates and provides an easy side-by-side comparison of selectivity across schools.

When selecting schools, remember that you can always take online classes if your local school doesn’t offer what you need. Online learning allows you to pursue college-level coursework without relocating. Whether attending a school in person or virtually, learn what type of student your preferred university wants—and how best to sell yourself as that kind of student during application. If it makes sense, consider studying abroad; such courses can be useful on college applications and add an international perspective.

If you aren’t ready to apply—or have already started your search and feel overwhelmed—consider contacting a college admissions counselor, who can help determine if you’re on track. A counselor can also help with essay writing, discuss financial aid and guide you through application processes at specific schools. Many school districts offer free or reduced-cost counseling sessions; community colleges sometimes do as well. Ask your guidance counselor or visit admissions office websites for more information about seeking assistance.

Once you’ve compiled information on your top schools, review it and consider each school’s merits, whether you feel right at home there or not. If you are having trouble making a choice, make an appointment with an academic advisor or admissions counselor. These individuals can help advise what course of action is best for you based on your strengths and weaknesses. It’s not uncommon to consider more than one college before deciding on one; sometimes students apply only to backup schools in case they don’t get into their number-one pick.

how to choose a college that’s right for you

Sixth, Visit Student Groups and Open Houses

While you’re out at college fairs, don’t forget about individual schools. A lot of colleges and universities offer student group fairs as well. Both options allow you to interact with current students and professors. While these events are sometimes more expensive than attending a career fair, they may be worth it if they provide an opportunity for one-on-one interactions that aren’t available anywhere else.

If you can’t afford them or don’t want to invest in those experiences, your school might also host open houses that give students access to facilities and departments without much expense at all—and will likely allow plenty of time to ask questions as well.

Seventh, Go on a Campus Tour: Before you visit, find out about any special events your school has planned. Some schools may offer overnight or weekend campus visits that allow you to get fully immersed in college life, including trips to social events and study sessions with students. Others may arrange personalized tours where they pair you up with current students—or even professors!

These extra efforts can help make a big difference in how much information you absorb on your visit, so look into them ahead of time if your school has any options available. With so many campus options available out there today it’s easy to just go with what seems familiar and nearby – but those aren’t necessarily factors that should drive your decision at all.

Eighth, Check out Scholarships: This should be something you’ve already been working on, but even if you have great options available, don’t neglect those of your chosen college or university. Many schools may have special scholarships that are worth far more than what they charge in tuition – and then some. On top of offering financial relief, scholarships can make it easier to find out about specific programs that interest you as well.

So if there are programs at your school specifically related to your area of study, be sure to ask! Then consider applying – but only once you check with them about whether or not such a scholarship exists before investing too much time into any one application.

Ninth, Tour Financial Aid Options: If you’re planning on applying for financial aid or scholarships, don’t forget to ask about that process while on campus. Schools are required by law to discuss funding opportunities in detail with accepted students, and many will go out of their way to help you figure out if you qualify – as well as how much more funding you may need.

This can be an especially useful tool if your school has special scholarship programs available through which certain costs are covered automatically. These opportunities can make it easier for you to keep up with expenses, so do what you can to take advantage of them if your school has any!

Tenth, Consider Your Future Path: Even if you’re in college now, that doesn’t mean you can’t still keep thinking about your future. Asking about career paths and networking with both students and faculty alike can be a great way to figure out what field of study you want to get into after graduation.

It might also help you decide if there are certain areas of study or possible job paths that interest you less than others – and even how much time you want to devote towards getting an advanced degree once your undergraduate one is done. All of these factors should inform your final decision – so keep them in mind when checking out colleges!

how to choose a college that’s right for you

Seventh, Make Your Choice!

In short, your choice of college will be closely connected with which school feels right when you visit. Don’t try to use other people’s judgments as your own: if you don’t feel that it’s right, move on. There are plenty of other colleges where you can feel right at home. By choosing a college based on such factors as location, cost, size and academic offerings, you increase your chances of making an informed decision – one that won’t lead to financial problems or regrets in the future.

The other two key factors in choosing a college are cost and academic offerings. If you want to minimize your costs, don’t pick schools in major cities: more likely than not, their tuition will be higher because of living expenses.

Large cities also mean there will be more people vying for good jobs once you graduate, which can make it harder to land your first gig or even find work at all if unemployment is high where you choose. Finally, stay away from any colleges that offer little or no opportunity for research or study – after all, spending four years learning about things isn’t going to teach you anything if that’s all you do!

This can be an incredibly exciting and scary time in your life. Choosing between colleges is an important decision, one that will significantly impact how you spend your four years at school. However, it doesn’t have to be a difficult or complicated process. By following these guidelines, you will be able to make a smart choice about where you go next – one that leads not only to higher education but also personal development, enrichment and fulfillment. And who knows? Maybe some lifelong friendships are out there too!

Finally, keep in mind that college is not just about going to class. In addition to attending your classes and studying hard, take time to get involved on campus! Involvement is a great way of making friends and also helps you learn more about yourself as well as other cultures and people.

If there’s one piece of advice we can offer, it’s to have fun: most colleges will give you ample opportunity for recreational activities (although some will push these more than others). Use these offerings – be they intramural sports or parties – because that is why you’re at college in the first place. The point isn’t only getting good grades, but enjoying life while doing so!

While choosing a college can be an extremely exciting experience, it is also one of great importance: not only will it determine where you spend your next four years and what you do while there, but it will likely influence how you live your life afterward.

As such, when making your choice, remember that there are plenty of good schools out there. You don’t have to choose just one – in fact, by considering multiple colleges and speaking with faculty members or other students at those schools, you can significantly increase your chances of picking a school that is right for you. And who knows? Maybe some lifelong friendships are out there too!

how to choose a college that’s right for you
how to choose a college that’s right for you

how to choose a college that’s right for you


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