Niche Resources

How To Find the Right College

With over 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, choosing the right school for you is challenging.

The decision can also feel overwhelming. After all, it’s where you’ll spend the next four years of your life. And it seems like everyone has an opinion on where you should go.

Don’t worry — we’re here to help! In this guide, we’ll outline four key ways to know that a school is right for you. We’ll also discuss what not to consider when making your college decision. Following these tips will help you make a well-informed, logical decision about where to apply, and ultimately enroll.

It Matches Your Criteria

Focus your college search by creating a list of criteria. Consider the following:

You should also look at factors like student/faculty ratio, average class size, the percentage of students that graduate on time, student satisfaction, and how the school will support you in reaching your academic and career goals.

Outlining the specifics of what you’re looking for in a college will help you choose the right school for the right reasons.

You don’t need to have your whole future mapped out just yet. But it helps if you have a general idea of where you’d like to end up. That way, you can choose a school that will help you get there.

It’s a Good Fit Academically

Of course, choosing the right school isn’t just about how good the football team is or whether it’s located near a beach. You also need to make sure that the school is a good fit academically.

What are you planning to major in? Check that the schools you apply to offer the major you’ve selected. If you aren’t sure, make a list of a few potential majors that interest you, and select schools that offer several of these choices.

Try to find a school that has particularly strong programs in your chosen major. What are the professors like in your program? Are they experts in their field? What interesting opportunities are offered to students in your major?

If you’re interested in research, find a school with plentiful research labs that’s known for providing research opportunities to students. You may want to consider other facilities like libraries, observatories, or performing arts centers. Find a school that aligns with your academic interests and offers opportunities that can help you reach your career goals.

You don’t need to have your whole future mapped out just yet. But it helps if you have a general idea of where you’d like to end up. That way, you can choose a school that will help you get there.

You Have a Solid Chance of Acceptance

Before you get your heart set on a particular school, consider your chances of acceptance. What is your GPA? How about your SAT and ACT scores?

Compare these numbers to the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of students who are admitted to the school. If you fall in the 75th percentile or higher, you have a good chance of acceptance. If you’re in the middle, you’ve got a decent shot. And if you’re in the 25th percentile or lower, it’s most likely that your application won’t be accepted.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply to schools that are a longshot. It simply means you should apply strategically. Apply to a few reach schools, but make sure that you also apply to target schools (you have a good chance of acceptance) and safety schools (you’re very likely to get in).

Remember that admissions officers consider more than just your statistics, so you still have a chance. And depending on how soon you’ll be applying to colleges, you may have time to improve your test scores and GPA if necessary. Take a test prep course, purchase a test prep book, find a tutor, and buckle down on your homework and studying.

It “Feels” Right

One of the best ways to determine if a school is right for you is to visit campus. Take a guided tour, but make some time to explore on your own as well.

Visit the building where most of the classes for your major occur. Spend some time in the library or dining hall. Talk to current students, if possible, and ask them about their experiences. If you get a chance, sit in the back of a classroom and listen to a professor’s lecture. Peek into a few of the dorms. Walk around and try to imagine yourself on campus.

How does it feel? It may sound silly, but you should be able to picture yourself at the college that’s right for you. It’s a good sign if you can imagine yourself happily learning and thriving on campus.

On the other hand, you may visit a school that seems great on paper and find that it just doesn’t seem like the place for you. This is why visiting your favorite colleges in person is so important. If you can’t visit, try taking a virtual tour on the school’s website or check out reviews and databases sites like Niche.

What Not to Consider When Choosing a College

Sometimes students choose colleges for the wrong reasons and end up feeling disappointed or unhappy with their decision. Do not choose a college based solely on:

  • The opinions of others. If your parents are helping you pay for college, they will have some say in where you go. But don’t choose a school just because your parents are alumni, your aunt wants you to go there, or all your friends are applying.
  • Name recognition. It’s possible that the best school for you is one you haven’t even heard of yet. Do your research and explore new possibilities. There are many, many more options than Ivy League schools and the schools you see playing on the field on ESPN. Don’t limit your search.
  • A significant other. Choose the school that will help you reach your career goals, not the school that’s closest to your significant other. Remember that you’re still young. And while your current significant other may not be around forever, you’ll always have your degree.

In addition, you shouldn’t let the price of tuition deter you from applying to a school. Of course, you’ll need to consider your family’s financial situation and how you’ll pay for college. But there’s no harm in applying, seeing what scholarships you qualify for, and then making your decision accordingly.

The Bottom Line

Selecting the college that’s right for you is a big decision, but it’s not impossible. Create your list of criteria, then do your research. Aim to compile a list of at least 10-15 schools that interest you.

Make sure these schools are a good fit academically and that you’ve got a good chance of getting into most of the schools on your list. Then, visit your top schools and see if you can picture yourself thriving on campus. Narrow down your list, and start applying! Once the acceptance letters start rolling in, consider making a pro/con list to help make your final decision.

If you’re still stressed about choosing a college, remember that your decision isn’t set in stone. If you make a mistake, transferring is always a possibility. But if you follow the tips outlined here, you’ll likely end up at a college that’s just right for you.

Find the right college for you

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.