College tips

8 Tips on Choosing a College That's Right for You

August 20, 2018

As we head into the end of summer, some students are excitedly preparing for college. Others may still be making their final decisions. If you’re still unsure which college is right for you, you’re not alone. Hopefully, you have a guidance counselor or college advisor to help. Data shows that in many parts of our country, especially in urban areas, counselors on average serve more than 250 high school students – so you may wish for even more support. I pulled together a few tips to help other students who (like me, earlier this year), feel torn between schools or are just unsure which school will be the right fit.

Ask yourself questions. In order to make a confident and sound decision about where you should attend college, it may help to ask yourself some of these questions, to understand your learning needs, wants and goals.


1. Do the schools I’m considering offer the right programs?

Always make sure to identify what is important to you in terms of majors, minors, clubs, work study programs and other extracurricular activities.


2. Do I see myself going away for college?

Everyone has different positions on whether they would like to stay or possibly go away for College for none, some, majority or all of their College years. These decisions are often based on finances or level of comfort. Here are some reasons why people choose to go away, stay close to home or live off campus.

  • Out of State. Students often choose out-of-state colleges or universities because they offer specialized programs or majors not offered locally. Other reasons include tuition waivers, career field options, a desire for independence or new cultural experiences, or simply because the school seems great. If you are itching for a new experience, can afford to go away, or desperately want to go to a specific university because of its reputation, network or majors, this could be right for you.
  • In State. In-state colleges or universities are often less expensive options than out-of-state institutions. For many students, being able to be close to home is important.
  • Residential options. Whether most students live on or off campus makes a big difference in the college experience. There is student life/culture to think of, as well as cost. In some institutions, people primarily commute or live off-campus for all for years; others require on-campus for some or all of the time. For many students, living off campus or at home makes college realistic because you pay the lowest tuition while still having the college experience. City Colleges and Community Colleges often have a large share of students living off campus.

3. What class size would best suit my learning style?

Taking a look at class size provided me with a general idea on how learning sessions will be at each school I applied to. Commonly, small to medium sized classrooms allow for a more engaging class experience while larger class sizes tend to be lecture-based sessions, with small TA workshops or more independent work. Think about what works for you, and whether class size has influenced your learning ability and if so, to what degree.


4. What degree do I need?

Although it is not essential to have an answer set in stone as you start college, it is useful to think about what options certain colleges provide.

  • Associate’s Degree. An Associate’s Degree is an academic undergraduate degree awarded by colleges by completing a course of study over a duration of two years for full-time students. This degree is ranked more highly than a high school diploma or GED. It is also considered a stepping stone for those who want to pursue a standard Bachelor’s Degree. Community colleges or junior colleges typically only offer the option for an Associate’s Degree.
  • ​​​Bachelor’s Degree. A Bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree is an academic undergraduate degree awarded by colleges and universities for completion of a course study that typically takes four years for full-time students. This degree is ranked more highly than an Associate’s Degree and is offered at all standard colleges or universities. In the workforce, a candidate with a Bachelor’s Degree is thought to be more attractive to employers.


5. Understand Financial Aid Options.

Taking a look at your Financial Aid packages can be a huge factor in determining your choice of college or university.


After receiving my financial aid packets from each school, I was able to look compare the options offered to me, including merit based scholarships, grants, loans and work study. Allow time for you to really be able to break down your financial aid packages and find out what costs are appropriate for you and your family to pay. If you find yourself discouraged during this process, try not to lose hope: there are many outside opportunities for outside scholarships and work study opportunities to increase aid if there is a particular school you really wish to attend. Link


6. Compare your schools.

After asking myself these questions and going through the motions of identifying what school would best suit me in terms of academics, financial aid and my living situation, I was finally able to reach one of the final steps towards making my decision: comparing schools. Use tools on websites such as College Board to compare basic information and statistics between schools you have in mind. This can include statistics regarding which school offers the most affordable tuition, best financial aid, graduation rates, salaries post-graduation, student-to-teacher ratio, male-to-female ratio, to name just a few.


This website's such as College Board presented all the information out to me, allowing me to cross off schools on my list that weren’t quite meeting my standards or goals.


7. Talk to people.

This step was probably the most compelling information that lead me towards my final decision. Talk to people who attend or who have recently attended the schools you are thinking about. Find out if they speak highly about the school. What is the food like? What are the teachers like? What is the atmosphere of the school? If they don’t find out why. Was it a motivational issue, was the coursework too rigorous? Make sure to weigh as much information as possible and remember that one bad perspective may not define your personal experience with the College.


8. Visit the school.

Visiting the schools is so important when making a final decision. Visiting your top choices will allow you to really get a vivid feel for each campus. Meet faculty, students, check out the health center and athletics facilities, walk around the campus: placing yourself in the College atmosphere will allow you to make your own judgements about whether you see yourself spending the next two to four years of your life there.