With nearly 4,000 post-secondary schools in the United States, how do you narrow the list down and choose the right university to attend?
We’ve developed a step-by-step process to make it less overwhelming. You’ll still have some work to do, but at the end you’ll be confident you’ve found a great college that checks all your boxes.
Step 1. Start Early
Many schools start accepting applications in early fall for admission the following year. Start the process of finding the right college by the beginning of your junior year at the latest. This will give you plenty of time to pick several to apply to, and even compare your choices.
Step 2. Choose a Location
It may seem strange to focus on location first. But deciding on how far you’re willing to travel can significantly reduce the number of schools to consider.
Do you have your heart set on a particular city? Are you only willing to drive an hour to get to college? Can you afford to fly back and forth? Answering these questions will get you off to a good start.
Step 3. Decide on Your Budget
College cost is a big factor for a majority of students. Determine how much money is available to you from family members or in college savings plans. Also decide how much debt—if any—you’re willing to take on.
It’s also worth taking the time to compare potential financial aid packages. Different universities might offer more or less, depending on their student body and endowments. Stay organized and consider consulting a College Financial Advisor like SMARTTRACK® College Funding.
Step 4. Consider Your Major
If you know exactly what you’d like to study, that’s great! You’ll be able to narrow down affordable schools in your chosen location that much easier. But don’t fret if you’re undecided.
If you haven’t picked a major, look for universities with a variety of offerings to give you some freedom to explore. You may just find your new passion.
Step 5. Research!
Time to put your research skills to work. This step may take longer, so don’t leave it too late.
The internet will be an invaluable help in finding information. Look for schools in your target location that offer your major. Start with generalized searches, and as you learn more about what you prefer, you can get more specific.
Details to research:
- Rates of acceptance, retention, graduation, and employment
- Student/faculty ratio
- Availability of required courses
- Housing and meal plans
- Clubs, Greek life, or volunteering opportunities
- Sports teams
Follow schools on social media and look for groups geared toward prospective students where you can ask questions. If something is important to you, add it to your list of things to find out.
Use all this information to narrow down your list to eight or ten possible schools—however many you can reasonably visit.
Step 6. Visit Different Campuses
Campus visits are important, not just to have a look around and listen to admissions brag. You can learn a lot about a school by paying attention to what isn’t said or pointed out.
Do you see flyers posted for a variety of activities? Are the grounds and buildings maintained? Is the walk from the dorms to the academic buildings too long for you? Are there recreation opportunities good for your interests?
Sometimes you’ll know as soon as you set foot on campus if it’s a right fit for you.
Step 7. Apply to Your Short List
Hopefully, campus visits have helped you knock a few schools off your list, and now you’re ready to apply.
The process can be made easier with the Common App, but you’ll still need to take your time with all the required information. Make sure to submit by the deadlines and settle back to wait.
Step 8. Consider Financial Aid Offers
Once you’ve heard from all the schools you applied to, take time to look at what each is offering. A deciding factor could come down to if a school offered financial aid or not.
Don’t be shy about contacting schools to see if more financial aid is available. It often is for those who ask. Hopefully, you’ll receive a mix of grants, scholarships, and loans to cover your tuition.
Step 9. Revisit Your Top Favorites
Torn between two universities? Want to be absolutely sure about the one you’re leaning towards? Go back for another visit. Many schools will have special tours for accepted students to help them decide.
Step 10. Say Yes!
Once you’ve made your decision, the last step is to say yes! May 1st is the deadline at most colleges for students to submit a deposit and make a commitment.
Choosing the right university can seem like an impossible task at first, but with a bit of organization and research, you’ll be able to find the right one for you.