According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the United States is home to over 4,600 colleges and universities. Webometrics reports that there are over 26,000 universities worldwide. That’s a lot of schools! College is a huge investment of your time and money. When you begin choosing a college, invest wisely by considering only those schools that will be the best fit for your personality and needs.
Narrowing Your List When Choosing a College
With so many options, finding the right school can be a challenge. To get started, remind yourself that there is no “perfect” school. Each choice will have pros and cons. The college you ultimately select may not be perfect in every way. Likewise, the right college for you may be completely different from the ones that are right for your friends. But if you are careful when weighing your options, you should be able to find a school that fits you.
There are several key details that nearly every student considers when evaluating colleges. The school’s academic profile, student community, distance from home, size, and costs are all important considerations. Additionally, you may have other conditions or preferences that are of special significance to you.
When making your choice, you should not only consider each factor but also weigh its importance. To narrow down your choices quickly, consider those factors that are absolute deal breakers first.
Begin your college evaluation by considering these important questions:
- Does the school offer the programs you need to earn your desired degree? Do your grades and coursework meet the school’s requirements?
- What is the community surrounding the school like? Is it safe? Are you interested in exploring the local culture?
- How far away from home is the school? Will you be able to travel home for school breaks?
- What is the size of the school’s undergraduate and graduate student enrollment? How big is the campus? Are most classes conducted in huge lecture halls with hundreds of other students, or are class sizes typically small?
- What will your total per semester costs be to attend the school? What types of housing and meal options are available? Is there a chance that the school will offer you financial assistance or scholarships to attend?
You can evaluate many of the characteristics of each college by visiting the school’s website or its Common Dataset. Once you’ve finished your initial online investigation, you may want to follow up by making personal visits to the most attractive schools.
If you aren’t able to conduct in-person visits, try to find a current or former student who can answer your questions about campus life and culture. Speaking to actual students is a great way to get the inside scoop on a particular college.
After You Have Narrowed Your List, What Else Should You Consider?
Beyond the basics, there are many other factors that you should think about before choosing a college. Sometimes you can get the answers you seek from online resources or admissions counselors. One excellent resource is The Economist’s ROI ranking. In other instances, you may need to ask during an information session or do a campus visit to find out everything you need to know.
Use these questions to help you further narrow your selections:
- What are the retention and graduation rates for the school?
- Does the school provide career preparation support and training?
- How are academic departments managed and curriculum selections made?
- What technology is available on campus? Are there any restrictions on the use of devices in the classroom?
- Are internships and/or research opportunities readily available?
- What academic and other support services are available at the school?
- Does the college have a clear policy on issues such as diversity, bullying, and personal freedoms?
- How easy or difficult is it to enroll in desired classes? Do available classes allow for the completion of a degree in four years?
Embrace Your Opportunities
When you are searching for your dream college, remember to keep an open mind. Don’t limit your search based on someone else’s priorities or perceptions. Think about what you hope to gain as a student and a person during your college years.
Michael S. Roth, President of Wesleyan University, explains in this Huffington Post blog, “Your college choice isn’t just about ‘fit’ and ‘comfort’, and it certainly shouldn’t be reduced to the prestige of the school or the amenities it offers.” Roth advises students to look for a school that reflects their own personal aspirations and allows them to thrive.
After taking everything into consideration, you should be able to say “Yes” to these two questions about your chosen school:
“Can I see myself as a part of this community?”
“Will I be challenged and happy here?”
There are many colleges and universities where you will get a great education and be happy while doing so. When choosing where to apply, select the colleges that best suit your personal dreams and goals. Using this method, you’ll find a school that is a great fit and allows you to thrive.
Stephanie Klein Wassink is the founder of AdmissionsCheckup.com. A former admissions officer and long-time college consultant, she graduated from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Stephanie writes frequently for Money Magazine, Huffington Post and other blogs.