Searching for a college that meets your expectations and fits your personality can be daunting. There are over 4,000 academic institutions in the United States, so there is no wonder why it can be a difficult decision to make.
By researching colleges, you’ll find many that offer the amenities, services, and activities you need. While you will likely have one top choice, you’ll want to find multiple colleges that match your wants and needs to ensure you get into a college that is a good fit for you.
Learn more about when you should start your college search, what to look for in colleges, how to compare colleges, and where to find a college planning specialist to help you.
When should you start your college search?
It’s never too early to begin your college search. While many students start looking into colleges during their sophomore and junior year of high school, it doesn’t mean you can’t later on in life.
However, the earlier you begin your search, the sooner you can apply to a college and receive the education needed to obtain your career goals.
Usually, students, who know they will go to college take advanced high school courses and tests, such as the ACT and SAT, to help them accelerate their education and improve their chances of admission to the college of their choice.
Beginning your search early gives you the opportunity to attend college fairs, participate in summer programs, and visit campuses.
What you should look for when choosing a college
Not everyone will have the same academic and career goals—there is no right or wrong answer here.
To determine what you’re looking for in a college, you’ll want to make a list of your wants and needs, and a list of colleges you think might meet those.
Let’s look at some of the most common factors most students consider before choosing their dream school.
Academic majors and minors
If you already know what you want major in, it may be easy to find a college that offers your program. Some schools have certain majors that they specialize in.
However, if you’re still undecided, you may want to choose a school with a wide variety of programs. There’s nothing wrong with starting your core classes at an affordable community college before transferring to a bigger institution for your electives.
You’re more likely to receive a quality education and feel satisfied with how much you spent on it if your school is properly accredited.
An accredited school also ensures you can use your degree in other states and transfer colleges while still keeping your credits. If a school you’re thinking of attending isn’t accredited, try to find out why they’re not and look at student reviews.
Athletics and extracurricular activities
If you play a sport, enjoy watching sports, or like being a part of clubs, you will most definitely want to select a school that offers those activities. Keep in mind that some schools have bigger athletic programs than others and that will likely be reflected in the cost of tuition. On the flip side, if you are an athlete, check into athletic scholarships with these types of schools and it may become affordable.
Do you feel at home? Before choosing a college, it can be helpful to take a tour there and hang out on campus. It will give you a pretty good idea if you fit in or feel out of place there.
Cost of attendance
The cost of college is expensive, and there is no standard price; each college will have its own tuition and fees. Be realistic about what you can afford. If you need help, financial aid and loans are options to make it more affordable.
Research and apply for any and all scholarships that you can. Grants and scholarships won’t need to be paid back. If you do take out loans, make sure you have a plan for how they’ll be paid back so you can avoid being charged a high amount of interest.
If you have a full-time job or other obligations, you may need a college that offers night and weekend courses.
Facilities and amenities
What type of rooms would you like, a single, double, or suite? Would you like an on-site medical center or pharmacy? Perhaps, a basketball court or pool table?
Determine what amenities are needed to help you maintain a happy and safe college life.
You can find the percentage of students who graduate from a specific college by doing a simple internet search or asking the school yourself.
A higher graduation rate may mean the school offers better education, amenities, and support.
How to compare colleges
Finding and deciding on a college is not easy, but by taking proper consideration, you can make the best choice and be satisfied with your decision.
Once you research, you may find that some colleges on your list do not meet your requirements and you can narrow down your list.
When you have a complete list of schools that you love and meet your expectations, you can begin visiting their campuses.
Each campus will give you a different feel. Either you will feel at home, or you will feel out of place. Finding one that offers comfort will help you get through your college years.
After researching schools, considering important factors, and visiting campuses, you should know where you want to go or can at least narrow it down even further.
Now, you can begin applying to the schools and comparing financial aid offers. It’s good to have one or two backup choices in case you don’t get into your first choice or it ends up not being affordable.
If you’re torn between two or even three schools, and they each have everything you want, you may want to choose the one that offers you the best financial aid package.
Choosing a school that you like and that will help you financially will save you money in the present and help to lessen costs in the long run.
Consult with a college planner
Many people are willing to help students find a college that meets their needs and show them how to apply for admissions and financial aid.
When you reach out to teachers, counselors, academic advisors, and college planning specialists, you will learn how to find schools, apply for schools, and increase your chances of being accepted.
At College Benefits Research Group, we can help students prepare for their academic future.
We offer workshops on many college topics so potential students can learn what they need to get accepted to the college of their dreams, find financial help, and plan their college journey.