Finding the right college

Deciding on which college you should go to can be overwhelming. After all, there are hundreds of them across the country, all great schools for different reasons. Of course, with the price of application fees and entrance essays to write, you need to narrow your selection down to just a few.

Finding the right college is an extremely important decision and is on the minds of many high school juniors and seniors and their parents as they plan for college.

It is a big life change, especially if you decide to attend college out of state, so it is important you take the time to research your intended colleges and make sure they will be a good fit for you. This will reduce your likelihood of transferring.

Students in high school with aspirations of going to college are faced with a decision that brings up many questions:

  • Where should I go to college?
  • What college is right for me?
  • How do I choose a college?
  • What college should I go to?

The following guide provides factors to consider in how to pick a college that will help find the right college for you and help answer the question of What College Should I Go To?

College Costs

The price of tuition goes up every year so it's best to take cost into consideration when looking for a college. Usually public schools within your state of residence will be cheaper colleges because a discount is given to in-state students. If you decide to go to an out-of-state school, you may end up having to pay more in tuition. However, if the school decides to offer you a scholarship, you should certainly that that into account.

What is your budget?

Come up with your overall budget. You need to keep in mind that college can be very expensive and the cost of books quickly adds up. Come up with the total amount you will have available per semester and divide your budget accordingly. After you have done so, you can narrow your college search by choosing the places that fit into your budget.

If you are determined to go to a certain college but it is slightly over your budget, consider student loans for college that you can pay back after you graduate. Better yet, try to make arrangements to work a part-time job to help cover the difference needed for your education costs. You need to be very disciplined and plan your budget ahead of time so you are not stuck in a financial bind down the road.

Do you have a place to stay?

This might sound simple, but make sure you have a place to stay when you arrive on campus freshman year. If your college is close by, consider staying at home to cut down on costs. If not, start documenting the process needed to get into a dorm at your institution or find some friends to split an apartment with. All of these are viable options, just don't try to find something at the last minute. Plan ahead and make sure you have a place to stay before your first day of class.

College Location

You should take location into account when deciding on a college.

If you want to be near family, you may want to consider colleges closer to home. If you are a student who wants to try something new and is not afraid of getting homesick, then go ahead and check out schools further away. Just be aware of travel costs to come home for visits.

When choosing a college, make sure you are alright with the surrounding area. Is the college located in a city where you will have to use public transportation to get around or is it in a suburb where a car will be necessary? If you are a student who may want to come home often, you may want to consider a college close to home. This way you won't be spending too much money on airplane tickets; you can commute home by bus, train, or even car if you are able to have one on campus.

College Ranking and Reputation

Have you checked into the reputation of your intended schools?

If the school you had your hopes on is ranked as one of the top academic schools in the country, then consider it as a definite option. If the school you want to attend is known as a top party school, you may want to think twice. You can still attend the “popular party school” as long as you are not easily distracted and can still focus on your studies.

Research colleges you are interested in. See how it stacks up against others in the country in college rankings and find out what the student/teacher ratio is. The easiest way to do this is to go to your local bookstore and purchase a college review publication; there are a bunch of them to choose from.

The student/teacher ratio is especially important if you like personal attention from your teachers and the ability to ask questions in class. Most importantly, see what things are most important to you and use the third-party publications to rank your potential choices accordingly. Ideally, you want to have fun in college but you can't forget about your primary objective, which is to attain a great education that will help you be successful in the future.

Decide on a Major

One of the first questions you should ask yourself, or an academic advisor, is if the college offers the major you are interested in. Obviously, if they do not offer what you want to do, you need to explore other options.

It can be hard to decide what to major in this early, but knowing your college major may help determine the college you attend. Students with common majors, such as psychology or business, can attend almost any college as those areas of study are offered at most schools. However, students with an interest in education, medicine, or law should research the best schools available for those majors. If you are going into one of these specialized fields, you want to make sure that you attend a school that has the curriculum that will help you succeed when you are ready to hit the job market.

It can be very helpful to have an intended major in mind before applying to different colleges.


Are most of your friends going to one specific school or are they all branching out? Although you shouldn’t solely base your decision on where your friends are going, it may be something to consider so you have a friend already there when you start your freshman year. You will of course meet new friends, but it would be nice to see a familiar face on campus.

Family Alumni

Is your mother or father an alumnus from a certain college? Colleges usually like to see a family legacy in the making and are more open to admitting the children of former students.


Check into extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations that your intended college offers. If you plan on pledging to a sorority or fraternity then check to see which ones have chapters on campus. If you play sports, check out the popularity of the teams on campus. This is all helpful to do since joining clubs and organizations on campus will help you be more involved with your college as well as make friends.

Other Tips on Finding the Perfect College

  • Check into things such as size and student-to-teacher ratio. If a class of 200 students does not appeal to you, then you may want to stay away from large public universities.

  • Check to see how much the tuition, room and board, and other fees total. You may have found the perfect college but if the tuition is expensive, you may have to take out additional student loans and/or apply for scholarships.

  • Make sure you apply to more than one college, just in case your first choice falls thorough. Try to find at least two to three “perfect” schools so you have a cushion in case something doesn't work out with the first school so that you have a first choice, second choice, backup, etc. Make sure you do your research so you are content with your decision on where to attend college.

Where to get College Information

For prospective college students, it can be overwhelming to research all the different colleges and gather enough information to find the right college for you. However, there are many resources available to help you narrow down your selection and make an informed decision in your college search.

When it comes to choosing a college that’s right for you, it is extremely crucial that you spend an adequate amount of time researching your future college. Basing your decision solely on the size of the campus or the student life would not be wise. Remember that this is your future we are talking about; you want to be able to graduate with a degree that holds weight when presented to a potential employer.

Use the following resources to find and get college information on schools you are interested in.

Talk to your Guidance Counselor

Every school has guidance counselors for their students. Make an appointment and sit down and talk with them about your future.

They are there to help guide you in the right direction. They can help steer you towards the schools that have the areas of study you want. Some guidance counselors can even provide you with letters of recommendation that you will need for your college application. They can also help you with your financial aid forms and any applications and essays you may need to complete.

Your high school guidance office is a valuable resource for your college search.

College Tours

These are trips that are usually sponsored by local high schools or community volunteers. They will take students by bus to many popular colleges in the area for a college visit. Students may even get to stay overnight in one of the dorms, eat on campus, and they receive tons of information from actual students and professors on campus. This is a perfect opportunity for students to gain hands-on knowledge from colleges and universities in the area. Visit for more information on this unique opportunity.

College Fairs

Many schools and community centers host huge college fairs every year. Colleges and universities will set up an information booth and students can walk around and talk to the representatives and learn and ask questions and receive immediate information. Check with your high school guidance office to see when the next college fair will be in your area.

Research Colleges on the Internet

The Internet has a plethora of information on colleges that can assist you in your college search. You can learn so much by visiting college websites and browsing pictures, watching videos, and reading useful information and data they make available to prospective students. Most colleges will also have a form for you to request more information about their college so they can send you a packet full of pertinent information.

Use websites like College Confidential Forums to research and ask college questions and tools like College Navigator to obtain college information and find colleges that meet your search criteria.

Word of Mouth

Ask your parents and other family members which college or university they attended. They can provide you with pros and cons of their college, which can help you make a better decision. They can also give you general college information that will help you prepare for the college experience.

Be proactive in your quest for college information. The more you learn, the more informed your decision will be and in the end the happier you will be. Attend college fairs, request information from colleges, and use the power of the Internet. These are all great resources for aiding in your search for the perfect college.