The key to finding the right college is knowing what is most important to you and finding the institution that best offers it. For most of us, it’s a combination of things that vary in levels of importance. No one else can determine this for you so one of the most critical steps in the college search process is to identify your important characteristics and use them to begin investigating schools. Consider the following:
Size will affect many of your opportunities and experiences, including range of academic majors offered, extracurricular possibilities and the amount of personal attention you'll receive. When considering size, be very sure to look beyond the raw number of students attending. For example, perhaps you're considering a small department within a large school. Investigate not just the number of faculty members, but also how accessible they are to students.
Do you want to visit home frequently, or do you see this as a time to experience a new part of the country? Perhaps you’d like an urban environment with access to culture, ethnic food, or major league ball games? Or maybe you’d like to have access to the outdoors or the peacefulness of a small town? If you’re not sure, visit campuses nearby and test out what you like or don’t like about various locations.
If you know what you want to study, research reputations of academic departments by talking to people in the fields that interest you. If you're undecided, pick a liberal arts or large institution that offers a range of majors and programs. In considering academic programs, look at rankings, special opportunities and career outcomes.
You aren’t going to be studying all of the time so you’ll want to find out what is available for you to do in your free time. Look at calendars and student life sections on websites to find out what type of social activities are available and whether they interest you. When you visit, talk to students about what they do for fun and decide if it fits your interests.
Look at the people shown in the literature and website – do they look like people you could become friends with? What about diversity - do you want to experience people from different backgrounds? Find out what kinds of student organizations are active and visible on campus and see if it offers enough variety for you.
Most colleges will provide their sticker price, along with financial aid information, in their literature. Use this as a starting point but don’t rule out a school based on cost alone. Find out what scholarships are available to you through the college or other sources and if you’re interested in a school, begin communications about financial aid with them.