How should you choose your college? Think about what really matters to you now, and you’re likely to find the fit that’s right for you. Your goal is to select a handful of schools that will best suit you. Create a side-by-side comparison.

What should you think about? These tips should help you get started.

Student, know thyself

Regardless of a college’s reputation, if you can’t follow your true interest or your real passion, or at least be able to discover that passion once there, it’s not going to measure up in the long run. If you know what you want to do with your life, count yourself lucky and then choose a school that offers your major. If, like many entering freshmen, you aren’t so sure what you want to do, choose a school with plenty of options that are interesting to you.

Where everybody knows your name, or “super-size” it?

Will you be more comfortable in a school with 100 students, or a 30,000-student university? You’ll need to think about your comfort zone. Do you like being a big fish in a small pond? Are you happy with the size of your high school class? Bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Location, location, location

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Where are you comfortable? In the midst of a bustling urban center, or nestled between cow pastures and cornfields? Think about where you come from and how much of a change you want from that. Decide how far from home you want to be, and how much it will cost you to travel back and forth for visits. Also, keep in mind advantages of your local colleges.

What’s your type?

Like their students, all colleges are not the same. Some are known for a broad-based liberal arts education, while others specialize in one specific area, like engineering or fine arts. Think about how you learn and what your interests are, and take it from there.

Who are these people?

Contrary to what you’ve seen in movies, college students are not all the same. Sure, you have the jocks, the Greeks, the brains and the artists, but there’s more than that. You’ll want to consider how many students live on campus or commute, how old the average student is, and what drives the campus social life.


It’s all about the Benjamins

Cost is probably one of the first factors parents consider … tuition, fees, and room and board vary from school to school, but the price tag isn’t always what you’ll end up paying. Different schools offer different types of financial aid, like grants for good grades or scholarships for specific talents. Colleges will let you know what programs exist if you ask. The bottom line? Don’t let cost be the only factor in your decision.

How do you measure up?

Admissions officers say that acceptance is not an exact science because no two applicants are alike. They do want to see that you’ve taken and succeeded in the most challenging course of study available to you, and they do look at senior year. Remember, you will want to find schools that span the three Rs: Reach, Realistic and Reliable.

Beyond the books

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Do you paint your face for football games, or do you prefer checking out art galleries? Some schools take pride in their athletic teams, while others may hardly seem spirited in that traditional “rah-rah” way. Perhaps you enjoy live music instead. Do they bring in acts you’d like? Check out the listing of clubs and organizations. Ask how influential fraternities are in the social scheme of things. Are you an adventurer who wants to explore other countries? Look for study abroad opportunities. Remember, you have to spend the next four years here, so make sure your personal goals are met as well as your academic goals.

Go with your gut

Remember not to lose yourself in this process. If you don’t feel right about a school, no matter how awesome it seems to be or who graduated from there before you, it’s probably not the place for you. Ask yourself, would I be happy living and learning with these students and these professors in this environment for the next four years? If you answer yes, you’re on your way to your perfect college.

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