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Students have to make two both important and stressful decisions regarding college. They have to decide what schools they want to apply to and then which one to attend.

If you are a high school student trying to prevent spending tuition money in the wrong school or a college student who is not satisfied with the college choice you have made, then continue reading. The below-mentioned factors can aid you when you are unsure how to choose a college to apply to. And then, once you have dealt with that, we have also included tips on how to pick a college as your final choice.

How Do I Start Looking for Colleges?

According to the stats from the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 4,313 degree-granting institutions in the United States. So, understandably, you might have a difficult time choosing colleges to apply to when the time comes. However, with a bit of work following the tips we will provide, you will find some great options that fit your academic wants and needs.

Make a list

A great initial tip for the research process is to create a list. You can start with a small list, including a few colleges you are interested in, and then keep growing your list as you continue with the other steps. Or, you can start big and list many colleges, then keep narrowing everything down as you go along.

Attend college fairs

An easy way to be introduced to new colleges and gather information on them is through college fairs. These events gather admissions officers from different universities and colleges so students and parents can meet with them and ask questions about the programs they offer. Nowadays, in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many college fairs have gone virtual. So, you can easily register and attend them from the comfort of your home.

To fully take advantage of the fair, a good tip is to prepare for it. First, do some research on the colleges there. Then, you can plan with which representatives you want to chat with and prepare some questions.

Google, google, google

We all have access to and use daily one of the most popular search engines: Google. Why not use it to make college searching easier? Search what some of the best colleges in your area are or ones that offer programs you are interested in, look for virtual college fairs, scholarship opportunities, and anything else you want to know.

With the research you make through Google, you can add to your college list or eliminate options that do not seem like a good fit.

Visit various college campuses

If there is a college you are interested in, and you want to know more about it, besides the individual research you do, visiting their campus can help seal the deal for you. Many colleges organize tours that allow visitors to ask questions and meet with students currently enrolled there.

Such visits can help you picture the life you might have at their school, thus helping you refine the search process.

By the end of your searching process, you should have up to 10 colleges on your list. Besides your dream school, aim to include two to three reaches, around four target schools, and a few safe options.

Things to Consider When Choosing a College


Choosing the place where you will probably be spending the next four years of your academic career is a big decision. You should keep in mind the following factors while you make your list of colleges, decide which ones to apply to, and ultimately pick the one.

School’s location

For many students, college is the first time they are away from their families. This experience helps them have a sense of independence and responsibility. However, different students want different things. Some students might want to be close to their families and hometowns. On the other hand, some others might want to move away and explore new cities. You must know where you stand in this spectrum while you are choosing colleges. Are you comfortable being thousands of miles away from your house, or do you prefer to have a smaller range? You should also consider the area itself. Is it in a city or country you like? Depending on the answer, use the distance and location criterion to differentiate between the colleges you think fit your needs and those that do not.

School’s size

The size of the school is also among the things to consider when choosing a college. Would you like to be part of a large student body? Or, maybe you prefer a more tight-knit community. Larger colleges generally offer bigger facilities, as well as a wider variety of majors. But, smaller schools with their smaller classes provide more room for one-on-one assistance from advisors and professors.

Accreditation & rankings

Different schools excel in different programs. One college might be a bad fit for someone looking to study business, but it could be perfect for someone interested in astronomy. Looking at the university’s rankings and reputation can help you decide whether to pursue that school or not.

Another thing you should check is their accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education states that accreditation helps ensure that the education provided by the institution of higher education is of an acceptable level of quality. If the college is accredited, do also check if it is regionally or just nationally. Regionally accredited universities and colleges are generally more conventional than nationally accredited programs because they are more easily accepted across regions.

Retention & graduation rate

High graduation or retention rates suggest the school’s good qualities. They indicate that the students of this school are succeeding and that the institution is committed to their success. Retention is a shorter-term view of success and refers to the percentage of First Time in College (FTIC) students who finish one year of their studies and then come back to continue studies the following year too. On the other hand, the graduation rate is a long-term view of success that expresses the percentage of FTIC students who complete their bachelor’s degrees.

Costs & scholarships

According to the College Board, in-state residents pay significantly less for attending a four-year public institution than students from out of state. The first group pays around $9,410 in tuition and fees, whereas out-of-state students have to pay $23,890. However, private institutions do not acknowledge the student’s residency status and charge all of them the same—an average of $32,410 per year. So, when considering public colleges, consider the difference in costs the state of your residency makes.

Scholarships can be a big help. Talk to an academic advisor and check to see if you are eligible for any scholarships that the colleges on your list offer.

Housing options


When attending college, housing plays a role in your satisfaction with the whole student experience. Depending on the college, you have a variety of options to choose from. For example, some colleges require their FTIC students to live in dorms or campuses, and some others can offer you the chance to live off-campus. Check and see if the school’s requirements fit your plans and preferences.

Student & career services

Last but not least, choose a college that grants you career services. They are supposed to guide you towards a prosperous future. Career services can aid you by offering career counseling, helping you obtain internships, or even providing opportunities to network with potential future employers.

As stressful as it might be to go through the process of choosing one school out of thousands, by focusing on some of the characteristics we mentioned, we believe you will make the right pick for yourself. There must be a school that meets all your expectations. You just have to look for it.



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