How to Search for Colleges Based on Your Personal Factors

Picking a college to attend is a big decision – and one that requires careful thought! Sometimes it’s easy, especially if you got into your dream college, but you should compare your options. But how exactly should you go about that? It’s important to keep your needs, wants, and other factors in mind when selecting a college. Here’s how to pick a college to attend.

A college student on campus smiling at a camera.

Consider Your Needs

What do you need out of your future college? What are you absolutely refusing to negotiate on? This could be your major, the location, or the size of the school – whatever is important to you, write it down and keep it in mind when narrowing down your options. You’ll want to cross out colleges that don’t meet most or any of your needs.

Consider Your Wants

You should also give credence to your wants in a college. These are things that would be nice to have, but aren’t necessarily “must-haves.” It’s okay to go without some of them. If you notice a school has a few or all of your needs, but very few or none of your wants, it may go a little further down your list as a result. 

How to Pick a College to Attend: Ask the Right Questions

If you’re struggling to come up with your needs and wants when it comes to college, it’s important to ask yourself the right questions. We recommend asking:

1. What Do You Want to Major In?

This should be a major (no pun intended) selling point for any college. Your school should have your intended area of study and it should be a solid program. You don’t want to go to a college that is in your favorite city but doesn’t even offer your major! 

2. Where Do You Want to Go to School?

Going off that though, you should give thought to location, too. You wouldn’t, after all, want to go to a college for four years that is in a city or state you dislike. Think about rural vs urban, as well as where in the world your school is. If you hate the cold, a college in Massachusetts may not be the best for you. If you like a slower pace, you might want to avoid New York City. You can cross out any schools that you know you won’t enjoy in this regard.

3. How Big of a School Do You Want to attend?

Next up, consider how big (or small) a school you want to go to. Do you enjoy larger classes? A large student body? Or would you prefer a smaller campus with more intimate classes? There are pros and cons to both, and this really comes down to your personal preference. Some majors and classes also do better in different settings, so this could also influence your options here.

4. What Do Your Finances Look Like?

While the sticker price rarely reflects what a student will pay to attend college, it is still important to give thought to your finances and any financial aid offers you receive. Some offers will naturally be better than others – is it worth going into debt to attend the school with a less-than-ideal financial aid package? Sometimes the answer will be “yes,” but it’s important to review your options including scholarships, loans, and other aspects of actually affording your education.

5. Academically, Is it a Good Fit For You?

When you applied to colleges, you should have selected a good mix of safety, target, and reach schools. Which of these colleges got back to you? Although a safety school may fit all your wants and needs, will it challenge you in the classroom? And with a reach school, will you be able to keep up with the coursework? Both sides of the coin need to be considered here.

Tips For Narrowing It Down

Here are a few tips you can also use to help you narrow down your list to your choice!

1. Compare Pros and Cons of Each

It can be extremely helpful to create a spreadsheet or table of the pros and cons of each of the schools you’re considering. This helps you keep better track of what school actually meets your needs and wants vs schools that may look amazing on paper but really aren’t a good fit for you personally as a student.

2. Talk to Trusted Friends and Family Members

Talking over your options with friends and family members is also a good idea. They can provide some insight you may have not considered previously. One tip though:  You ultimately make the decision, and you don’t necessarily have to take their advice (sometimes it will be bad advice!).

3. Speak with Alumni

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to reach out to some past (and current) students of the school! They’ve lived it – what do they think? Their opinions, especially if they’re in the same major as you, can be extremely valuable. 

4. Visit Campuses and Surrounding Areas

It’s also a good idea to visit or revisit campuses and the surrounding cities or towns. Is it what you thought it would be? You could get to the area and realize it’s nothing like what you wanted, or what you even saw in the virtual tour! It’s important to always visit the campus before you actually agree to attend.

Final college decisions tend to be required by May 1st. If you’re still on the fence about what college is best for you as the clock ticks down, the above advice should be extremely helpful in assisting your decision!

Comparing financial aid packages is an essential step that many students accidentally skip or don’t realize the importance of. After all, those letters can be confusing! College Raptor’s Financial Aid Comparison Tool, however, does the work for you and cuts through the waffle. Get started for free today!