You’ve spent weeks narrowing down your shortlist of colleges that are the best fit for your requirements. While you’re pretty happy with your efforts, you realize you have a dilemma. No specific college on your shortlist ticks all of your boxes. Some offer what you are looking for in terms of academic programs and cost of tuition. Others are a better fit in terms of academics and location or academics and campus size. Another college is perfect in every way, except one – they don’t offer the specific major you’re looking for. So what do you do if you find yourself in such a situation?
Learning how to evaluate colleges on your list is one way to resolve this dilemma of competing priorities. When you evaluate the colleges on your list, it makes it easier for you to rank them in order of preference. Here’s how to do this.
Ask Yourself What’s Most Important To You
Every student has their own set of priorities, which may be different from yours. Don’t go by what others are using as their baseline to shortlist colleges to apply to. Instead, think about your academic goals and your personal preferences. Consider which school will give you what you need to thrive and succeed.
Create your own top five factors from the list below of what to look for in a college:
- Majors and classes offered
- Extracurricular activities
- Research facilities
- A specific sport
- Total cost of education
- Financial aid
- Campus size
- Campus location
- Class size
- Campus atmosphere
- Housing options
- Distance from home
When creating your top five list, you must list them in order of priority. Which of these aspects is the most important to you? Think about which features are ‘must-haves’ and which you are flexible about.
Schedule College Visits
There’s more to a college than their academic and athletic offerings or the size of their campus. What’s just as important is the vibe you get when you’re on the campus. Do the students look happy? Do they speak glowingly about the school when you ask for their feedback? How about the dorms? Do they look homely and inviting? Do you see yourself living there? Does the cafeteria offer a reasonably wide selection of meal options?
The only way to get the answers to all of these questions is by visiting the campus. It may not be practical to visit all colleges on your list but try to visit at least a few. It will give you the information you need to compare different colleges and make better choices.
On your college visits, speak to students on campus. Ask them about the academic programs, professors, and other facilities that are important to you. Maybe you want to know more about a specific club that you’re interested in. Or maybe you want to know more about the campus counselor. There’s no one better to get this insider information from than students attending the college.
Talk To Alumni of Various Colleges
Want to know more about networking opportunities, job placements or employment prospects after graduation? Students who have graduated from that college are the best source for this kind of information. Most will be very happy to help.
Compare Net Price Estimates
Understandably, the cost of tuition can be one of the biggest concerns when you evaluate colleges. But don’t rule out any school at this stage because of the high fees. In most cases, students rarely pay the price that’s published online or on brochures. What you need to look at is the net price. This is the price you will pay after deducting all the financial aid that you receive.
You may qualify for financial aid from the government or from the college itself if you meet certain requirements.
Attending a state college may qualify you for a steep discount on the fees. This is because state governments often cover some of the tuition for students who are residents of the state. In this case, you will pay much less for the same program as compared to out-of-state students.
Certain characteristics or achievements may qualify you for scholarships at different colleges. Some may award scholarships to accomplished scholars, musicians, or athletes. Others may award scholarships to students who belong to a certain race, culture, religion or some other criterion. Qualifying for a scholarship will reduce the cost of attending a particular school even more.
When comparing the tuition fees at various colleges, you must take all of the factors above into consideration.
Compare Award Letters
You’ve finally narrowed down your list and sent out your applications. Now it’s time for the acceptance letters to come in. Receiving acceptance letters from the top colleges on your list can be exciting, but you can accept only one. Which one should you accept?
That top five list you created is a great guideline to start with. And you now have another important piece of information that you can use – your financial aid package. Your award letters will give you detailed information about the complete financial aid package the college is offering you. It also tells you exactly how much you will need to pay to attend that college. Use this information along with your top-five priority list to do a final evaluation of colleges on your list.
We understand that choosing a college can be difficult. We hope our tips for how to evaluate colleges can help make the process a little less overwhelming for you.