College Selection Criteria

College costs aren't the only factor when selecting which college to apply to or attend. There are more than 6,500 colleges from which to choose, each with its own culture and vibe, and it's worth the extra effort while researching to find the college that's right for you.

What Type of College Appeals to You?

  • Academics – What are your career dreams and interests? Make sure the colleges you apply to offer courses that let you develop the skills you'll need for the types of jobs you want after graduation.
  • Location – Do you want to be close to home, or are you interested in experiencing a new part of the country? Do you want to attend a college in a warm or cold climate? Do you have a preference to be near a beach, mountains, or a lake, or would you like to be in the middle of a big city?
  • Athletics – Whether you want to play college-level sports, stay fit through intramurals, participate in cheerleading, or simply root for your college's sports teams, consider the athletic opportunities and atmosphere.
  • Campus surroundings – Colleges are in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Do you prefer a campus in a quiet environment, or would you like to have lots of restaurants, clubs, shops, and other attractions at your doorstep? Remember, you won't be in class or at the library all the time!
  • Student body size – Do you prefer to know everyone on campus, or do you like to be unknown in a crowd? College sizes can range from as few as 100 to more than 60,000 students, and the size of the student body will play a major role in your experience. Student body size is often reflective of class sizes, especially in your first year. So think hard about what size college suits you best.

What Is the College's Academic Climate?

  • Retention rates – Looking at what percentage of students return to the college for their sophomore year can give you an idea of how satisfied students are. If a college has a low first-year retention rate, it may mean that freshmen are dissatisfied with their college choice after their first year and therefore do not return.
  • Graduation rates – How long it takes you to graduate can have a big impact on your total cost of college. Students who graduate in 6 years will have two additional years' worth of expenses compared to students who graduate in 4 years. Look at a college's 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates to get an understanding of how long it takes most students to graduate.
  • Percentage admitted – The percentage of students admitted could give you an idea of how selective a college is. Colleges with a low percentage admitted are more selective than colleges that admit a high percentage of applicants.
  • Participation in student aid programs – Generally, colleges do not participate in every financial aid program, so be sure to research financial aid program availability at each college.
  • Career center/alumni network – A career center and developed alumni network can be helpful in finding a job after graduation. Learn about career resources at the colleges you are considering.
  • Major availability – Make sure that colleges you consider offer the major for the career you want to pursue. If you are undecided or interested in more than one major, look at colleges that have strong offerings in all the areas you are considering. That way, if you change your major, you don't have to transfer to another college.

What Is the College's Social Atmosphere?

  • Greek life – Do you want to be part of a sorority or fraternity? What percentage of the students participate in the Greek system?
  • Clubs and organizations – Getting involved with clubs and campus organizations is a great way to meet like-minded people. Check for clubs and organizations that let you develop your current interests and explore new ones.
  • Percentage of students who stay on campus on weekends – Do most students stay on campus or leave on the weekends? If the majority of students do not stay on campus, you may not enjoy the atmosphere if you plan on staying on campus most of the time.

What Are Some of the Characteristics of Campus Life and the Student Body?

  • Dorms – What types of dorms are available, and how is the quality? Do you prefer to live on or off campus? Are freshmen required to live on campus? Is on-campus housing guaranteed for four years?
  • Dining options – What dining options and meal plans are available? How is the quality and variety of the food? At some point during all that hard work and socializing, you will have to take some time to eat.
  • Campus diversity – Do you prefer a campus with a diverse student population? Diversity information should be available through the college's admissions office.
  • Safety on campus – Check with your colleges to obtain their safety and crime reports. What policies and procedures are in place to ensure students' safety?
  • Religious affiliation – Do you prefer to attend a college with a religious affiliation?
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