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Selecting the Right College

Finding the perfect college fit is a daunting task and one that you have to do at a relatively young age. Even if you are able to visit a few colleges, how do you find others to apply to? The good news is that most colleges can be grouped into similar categories, making your decision easier. We recommend that you start thinking about colleges during the second semester of your junior year so that you feel less overwhelmed during your senior year. Consult your teachers or high school counselors for help! The following questions are important to consider when starting your search.

1. What type of degree are you looking for?

  1. A four-year college or university will offer a Bachelor's of Arts or Sciences (B.A. or B.S.) degrees upon completion of four years worth of required credits. Liberal arts colleges tend to have more holistic curriculums based in critical thinking, while bigger universities may offer different, specialized schools such as business schools, nursing schools, and engineering schools.

  2. Community colleges offer Associate's Degrees upon completion of a typically two-year curriculum (but may take longer), and often offer students the opportunity to transfer to a four-year university. Community colleges are a great option if you're unsure of the major or career that you're interested in pursuing. You'll have the opportunity to take different classes and find out what you're interested in, for a much more reasonable price (you'd typically pay per class).

  3. Vocational schools also offer an Associate's Degree upon completion of typically two years of specialized career training.These colleges teach students the technical skills needed for a vocational job. You'll also have the opportunity to transfer to a four-year college if you decide to!

2. Location: How far away from home are you (and your family) okay with?

  • Location types: Do you want a campus in the city, in a suburb with city access, or a rural setting?

  • Housing Prices: Is housing affordable in that city or town? Would you be able to afford housing both on and off campus? Big cities tend to have very high property values, but they do vary.

  • Transportation: Do you have the means to travel to and from your school? Will you need to pay for airplane tickets? Be sure to factor travel prices into your budget!

3. Size: Are you looking for a small, medium, or large university?

  • All three sizes of colleges have their own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to explore what you are comfortable with.

  • Small colleges are generally less than 5,000 students, medium-sized colleges are between 5,000-15,000 students, and large colleges are greater than 15,000.

  • While undergraduate population is a great place to start, we also highly recommend looking at average class size, student-to-faculty ratio, and percent of classes taught by professors vs. TA's. Typically, a lower student-to-faculty ratio is preferred, so you'll have more opportunities to meet or speak with professors and TA's.

4. What’s your intended major?

  • If you already have an intended major in mind, be sure to check to see if the colleges you are interested in actually offer that major.

  • If you are unsure of your major, be sure to look at that college's flexibility about changing majors. Some schools will require you to declare your major early freshman year, while others will allow you to wait until the end of sophomore year.

  • As we mentioned above, community colleges are a great option if you're unsure of what major or career you'd like to pursue. You'll be able to complete some of the general education requirements for a four-year degree, which will allow you to transfer to a university if you decide you want to. You'll have the opportunity to explore different interests without paying the drastically higher tuition of a four-year college.

5. Which type of application is right for you?

Look to see if the college offers Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) applications.

  • ED applications are binding, meaning if you're accepted, you are legally obliged to attend the school (except for in extenuating financial circumstances). Early Decision applications tend to have a higher acceptance rate, since they are submitted by students whose first choice is that school. You may only submit one ED application because it is binding.

  • EA applications are not binding, so you may submit multiple EA applications. EA applications also tend to have higher acceptance rates, but not as much as ED applications.

  • Both ED and EA applications are usually due by November 1, but admissions deadlines vary by school, so be sure to double check.

* Rolling admissions means that they look at applications on a first come-first serve basis, so you want to apply as soon as you are ready, as there is usually no binding commitment (but be sure to check!).

6. Financial Aid and Budgeting

How much financial aid will I need? What range of tuitions can I afford?

  • Using college budgeting sheet available at the bottom of the page, it’s important to estimate how much your college experience will cost. Along with tuition, if you're planning to move out of state, you need to consider transportation costs, rent, meal plans, furniture, school supplies, and laundry money.

7. Other Important Considerations

  • Athletics: If you're an athlete, decide which NCAA division you are interested in. If you want to continue your sport but not at the NCAA level, then look for colleges that have club sports or intramural sports (most do!).

  • Extracurriculars: Similar to sports, if there is an extracurricular that you are interested in continuing, check to see whether or not such an option is available. If not, check to see if the college allows students to create their own clubs (if that is something you would want to do) or if there are similar activities on related topics.

  • Religious Affiliation: Do you want to attend a school with a religious affiliation and to what degree? What kinds of spiritual/religious resources would you want to have access to?

8. What Next?

A great resource once you have considered these factors is College Search, which allows you to input your choices and academic information and gives a list of colleges for you to consider. College Search even allows you to decide how important a factor is to your list.

Niche allows you to learn more about potential colleges. Instead of having to search all over a college’s admissions website, Niche compiles a list of important statistics for every college. This includes a Niche report card for different categories, such as athletic division and conference, rankings, acceptance rate, ACT/SAT range, where students also applied, test scores and GPA of past applicants, tuition, total aid given, student- faculty ratio, most popular majors, total enrollment, polls about campus life, starting salaries for graduates, and more!

Check out US News for tips on how to choose a college once acceptance letters have arrived.

College Spending
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Photo Credit: Photo via PxHere

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