Guide to Selecting the Right College

Selecting the right college or university can be an overwhelming process! There are many schools out there to choose from --- more than 2,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. It is therefore, challenging for students to sort through the college list and narrow down a handful of institutions to find the right fit.  Many factors enter into selecting the right college, and each student must invest time and effort in knowing what that right match for them is.

It's best to start the college selection process as early as the junior year of high school or even earlier. However, each student must figure-out their reason for pursuing a college education and how this decision will have an impact on their life in terms of career goals, ambition, desired job, financial expectation and more.

( Also, read: Top 5 College Charcteristics.)

Below is some advice for trying to find the school that works for you.

Step 1: Determine College Major:

Many students enter college as "undecided," and that's fine, but if you have some idea of a career or a major, that information can help in finding colleges that offer and even specialize in that field. Selecting a school based on college majors is crucial to determine which college is right for a student. Not every college offers the type of degree which a student maybe looking for. So it is important that students invest time in researching their areas of interest and colleges which rank high in those topics. Also, it is important for students to understand  the selectivity of the program they have chosen to pursue. For example, they should know how many people apply to their select major or department, and how many are accepted? As the number of applicants grows in comparison with the number of "seats" open, the selection rigor increases. It is often the case that the higher the selection rigor, the more likely it is that only the applications of the most highly qualified will be accepted.

Selecting a major is more than choosing few subjects a student wishes to pursue in college. It is about defining who and what they want to be in the future.  Also, online career assessment tests available on the Internet can help students to really decide which field may be good options for them to consider.

Step 2: Develop a List of College Criteria:

Essentially to evaluate and weed out colleges. Do you want to take up campus or online study? Do you want a large university or a small college? What about financial aid? Here's a list of common criteria:

Step 3: Prepare a College List:

Experts recommend putting together a college list based on desired criteria's as one of the most important steps in college planning. Students should be realistic and apply to schools which are reachable and weigh high in their desired criteria. A good practice is to include one or two "fall back" colleges in the list. These are institutions which the student is confident to get admission into, and can fall back on, in case others don't work out.  Here's an example on how to approach this step. Below is John's top 5 criteria to select a college based on which he will prepare his college list.  In the same way, students can prepare their college list based on crieria's that are significant to them.

"John's Goal: Create a target group of colleges that meet the following 5 requirements:

1. Percentage of graduation rate :college overall and within the information technology (IT) department ( 65% general and 80% within IT is acceptable)

2. Scholarship availability: ( I need atleast XXX amount to cover my tution and other college expenses)

3. College ranking within IT - ( has to be within the top 20 nationally)

4. Location: (urban area)

5. School size: (5,000 or less student body is preferred- small college)."

( View our detailed listing of grad and undergrad schools here)

Step 4: Research Short-Listed Colleges:

Finding the right college fit requires time and thoughtfulness. After having short-listed colleges, students must now  invest time in research and learn more about their desired educational institutions. Students can  visit college web sites and learn about events taking place, guest speakers visiting, explore faculty profiles, read newsletters to get an idea of the school's activity and more. It is good practice to take a virtual tour of the college and contact the admissions office to request a college campus visit and address additional queries.

Step 5: Visit College Campuses:

The best way to really get a feel for a college is by visiting the campus. When students visit,  they must try to sit in on classes, eat in the dining hall and hang around in the student center or other high-traffic areas. If possible, try to spend the night in a dorm. This will help students to imagine a place where they will spend the next four years of their life. Prospective students must take a keen interest in the major or department of their choice( during their campus visit) and become familiar by learning about the reputation of the department and its faculty. They should ask questions to students currently in the program to understand how satisfied and happy they are with the program. Issues like: faculty turnover, accreditation, courses offered are few suggested discussion areas.

Step 6: Revise List Based on Updated Input:

Once students have experienced multiple campus visits, their notes will help in identifying the pros and cons of each college, as well as serve as a guideline for selecting their school of choice from their desired college list.

Once their college list is ready( 5 colleges preferably), students can start preparing to apply to these colleges.

(Suggested read: College Admission Do's and Don'ts ; Everything about Application Essays for College Admission; Road to College.)