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Six Steps to Choosing a College

The time to choose a college is approaching, but the wide variety of options can make it hard to know which ones you should seriously consider. These six steps can help.

Understand your choices.

If you know what you want to do after college or if you have a major picked out, that can help you decide whether you should look at a four-year or two-year institution, or some combination.

You should also have a good understanding of what you can afford to spend on your college education, but don't immediately rule out a college because of cost.

Make a long list.

Your long list should include a variety of schools to consider and learn more about. For ideas, talk to family and friends, ask your school counselor, read college guides and search the Internet.


Now that you have a list, choose some of the most appealing colleges and universities to look at more closely. Visit as many as you can within your timeline and budget — you might be surprised by your preferences once you see a few campuses. Some questions to consider as you explore:

  • Size: How many students attend the school? How many are in your particular program? What is an average class size for general education classes?
  • Funding: Are you interested in the religious, service or specialized experience offered by private institutions? Are you more comfortable at a public, state-funded university?
  • Location: How close is it to home and how will you travel back and forth? Is it located in a city, a suburb or a small community?
  • Student body diversity: How do the school's location, programs, requirements, cost and environment affect the types of students who attend? Would you prefer to attend a college with many students who have a background similar to yours or from a variety of backgrounds? Are you looking for a school that draws a high percentage of international students?
  • Atmosphere: Does the campus feel traditional or not? Do most students stay in the area over the weekend or go home? Does the school offer a variety of activities and clubs you're interested in?
  • Reputation: What are the overall graduation and placement rates? Are faculty up to date with current advances? Does the school have a good reputation among employers in your field? Does it offer career preparation to assist you? Discover what other aspects of a college or university you should consider.

Decide the features you like best.

After you explore several campuses, determine what size and type of college you'd most like to attend. Look for other schools that offer the same types of features and visit them.

Make a short list.

Narrow down your new list of colleges that offer the features you prefer. Try to choose three or four that have everything you really want. If all these have high admission standards, choose at least one safety school that you know will accept you and offers most of the features you want.

Re-evaluate for the best fit.

After you've applied to and been accepted into the schools on your short list, consider which will best help you meet your goals. If you have the chance, visit your top two or three schools again to ensure you make the right choice and determine your first preference. For a second visit, consider staying overnight in a dorm, sitting in on a large lecture class, and talking to teaching staff and students.

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