Spending hours searching “how to choose the right college for me” online may not be on your schedule this week, and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. While there is no magic formula for how to choose the right college for you, there are some tried and true things you can do to make this monumental task easier and more fruitful.
Needless to say, the college applications you send in and the school you end up attending will make a big impact on the rest of your life. As such, it can be easy to get caught up repeating, “Which college is best for me?” to yourself over and over.
While you certainly don’t want to panic or get stuck with a one-track mind that thinks of nothing else, you want to give this decision the time and attention it deserves.
When it comes to how to choose the best college for you, you need to think about yourself first and particular schools second.
How to Choose the Right College for Me: Factors to Consider
You have to think about certain aspects that pertain to yourself before you can browse colleges and what they offer. Taking some personal factors into consideration is the only way to discern which colleges fit your needs. Start your journey learning how to choose the right college by considering the following:
Consider Your Academic Interests
One of the first items you must consider is your academic interests. Do you have an idea of what you want to major in? What ignites your passion? What do you want to study?
Every university and college offers its own specific majors, minors, and concentrations, and just because you have a major in mind doesn’t mean the college you’re considering offers it.
The same holds true for degrees. Some colleges only offer associate degrees, and others only offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Some schools have Ph.D. programs, and others don’t. So consider how far you want to go with earning a college degree.
Once you know what interests you and how far you want to take your degree, you can narrow down your college choices to include only the schools that fit those criteria.
Consider Your Personal Interests
In college, there is so much more to do than attend classes! There is also more to consider than academic factors when working on how to choose the best college. For example, do you want the personal attention many small colleges offer, or would you do better in a sea of students in the lecture halls of the country’s biggest schools?
Do you want a school in a specific location? What kind of extracurricular activities would you like the school to have? When searching, “Which college is best for me?” look for one that fits your lifestyle and personality.
Consider the location of the school in relation to your home. How far from home do you want to be? What kind of climate do you prefer? You should also think about what your priorities are, including whether academics, extracurriculars, or athletics (or anything else) is most important to you.
Finally, think about what kind of social life you want during college. Consider the following questions:
- Do you want a strictly academic-focused campus or one that has hundreds of student organizations and activities available?
- Are you interested in being part of a fraternity or sorority?
- Do you prefer a close-knit community with small group outings or a giant campus where you can blend into the crowd?
Answering each of these questions will help you discover how to choose the best college for you, so take your time and think carefully about what you want from your time at school.
Consider Your Finances
For most people, the cost of attending college is a major factor that shapes their final answer to the question, “Which college is best for me?”
Scholarships, grants, and other awards can lower the cost of tuition (and, in some cases, room and board), and sometimes, they can make all costs $0. Books can also be a giant expense, costing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand, depending on many factors.
Are you willing to take out student loans if you need to do so? Will you be applying for any grants or scholarships? There are many financial resources available to help students pay for their education; you just need to decide what you’re willing and able to tap into to help.
Make a List of Potential Schools
The next step in how to choose the right college is to gather a list of schools that seem to offer everything you are looking for and can fit your budget (with or without financial aid, whichever applies to your situation).
Researching colleges can be done with guidebooks, filling out online contact forms asking for pamphlets and further information, visiting school websites, and meeting with college representatives who visit your high school. You can also talk with any alumni from colleges you are considering and your high school counselor.
Many high school students find assistance from college admissions counselors to be invaluable. These professionals help students find and get into the colleges of their dreams. They can help you locate the colleges that match your interests most.
Visit the Colleges that Make Your Final List
The best way to learn more about a college that piques your interest is to spend some time visiting it. College visits offer opportunities to take in the campus sights and sounds in person.
By visiting campuses, you can see for yourself the students, the faculty, the grounds, and the buildings. If you can, visit classrooms and attend an extracurricular activity or two on campus.
Something you can’t experience without personally visiting campuses is the atmosphere. Different universities and colleges have different “feelings” to them, and you can’t get a feel for a campus without being there to take in all the sights and sounds for yourself.
That said, many students aren’t able to personally visit a campus for any number of reasons, especially if that college is located a long distance from their home.
Thankfully, virtual tours are the next best option for many schools. While it won’t give you the same personal experience that comes with actually spending time on campus, it can still help you learn a lot.
As part of your decision-making process for how to choose the right college, you can also learn a lot by attending a class (many colleges will let you do this if you register ahead of time).
Other options are reading online reviews, watching videos, spending time on the school websites, reaching out to the admissions team, working with admissions counselors, and talking to current students.
The Best Way to Choose the Right College for You
The absolute best way to discover the university or college that will suit you best is simple, and if trying to remember everything else is just too much to handle, follow this one tip:
Follow your gut instinct.
As you are learning about a school, visualize yourself there. Can you see yourself attending classes, walking around the campus, and interacting with students? Are you able to see yourself participating in activities you love, studying for exams, and even gaining hands-on experience to help advance your studies toward your major?
On paper, if a school has everything you want, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s right for you. Every college campus has a unique history that has sculpted it into the community it is today.
If you’ve ever visited a college campus, you might’ve noticed the aura of the place — every college campus has a unique aura or vibe, completely different from any other.
If you can feel that aura and picture yourself there, you may have found the right college for you. Some people feel that multiple colleges are right for them, and others only feel like they belong at one school.
The important thing to remember is that when you find the best college for you, you’ll feel it. Your gut instincts will kick in and let you know you belong there. You should feel a sense of connection with any school you are considering; if you don’t, that school may not be right for you.
How to Choose the Right College for Me: The Final Step
Sometimes, what finally determines which school a person attends are the acceptance letters and financial aid packages they receive. There might be two colleges that you just couldn’t decide between, and you apply to both of them.
One could offer you significantly more financial aid than the other, and that factor may sway your final decision quite a bit.
The final step in how to choose the best college is to apply to schools and see what they offer you. You might be surprised at what some colleges will do to get you to join their campus communities!