What to Consider When Applying to and Choosing Colleges
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
Before you start applying, there are many aspects of a college to consider: cost, location, size, and much more. How do you know if you’ve selected colleges that fit you? After you’ve applied and received your acceptance letters, you must still consider the factors mentioned above, but through a more critical lens; after all, you’ll be going to school here for the next four years or so. How do you know if you’ve picked the right one for you?
That’s where we come in! Whether you’re at the beginning or end of your college admissions process, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll help you get on track and let you know which factors are important in determining if you’ve selected the ideal school(s) for you.
There are two times during the college admissions process when you’ll need to seriously consider the different aspects of a college, and these times are outlined below:
Beginning the College Search:
So you’re brand-new to this whole college admissions process and are not sure which schools to apply to. Keep in mind your own priorities for what you want, but also know that it’s safer to just apply to a school that you have some doubts about; after all, you’ll want a wider range of options when you choose which school to attend.
Finalizing Your College of Choice:
This is a big decision in your life, so you can and should spend more time mulling over the situation and deciding which school to attend. As mentioned in “Beginning the College Search,” you must base your decision on factors in the order you prioritize them. For example, if you absolutely must join a school with a good water polo team, you might have to sacrifice academics or other qualities when choosing which school to attend.
Regardless of which stage of the game you’re in, it is important to have a clear idea of which aspects of a college you should be considering. We encourage you to take a look at the following factors—listed in no particular order—when deciding which colleges to apply to or attend:
Athletics, activities, and club offerings. Some students place a big emphasis on sports teams, hackathon teams, and the like. Not all schools have equal offerings in these departments. Be sure that you conduct research so that the schools you apply to can ensure your happiness in these departments over the course of four years. If you come across a school that does not have the particular program you’re hunting for, remember that you may be able to kick-start a club or activity that you’re interested in (within reason).
Religious groups. If faith plays an important role in your life, you should definitely look for schools that offer enough programs or gatherings to make you feel at home. Some Christian students, for instance, may choose to attend Christian colleges because their faith is so important to them.
Greek life and housing. If you really hope to join a fraternity or sorority, you should first make sure that the schools you’re considering have a fairly well-represented portion of students participating in Greek life. This will ensure that you enjoy your experience with your brothers or sisters. Also, make sure you’re satisfied by the housing options available to students participating in Greek life.
Special programs. If you’re interested in studying abroad or participating in a unique program, then conduct some research about these programs at each school you come across. Not all schools will have the program you’re looking for, so make sure that you set this straight before finalizing a college for application or attendance.
Resources for your major. It’s best to choose a school that offers enough outside resources for your major. For example, if you’re planning to follow the pre-med track, you may want to find a school with well-known hospitals or good research laboratories nearby. If you want to become a journalist, you should choose a bigger city with big-name newspapers or magazines at your disposal.
Location and climate. A few of us at CollegeVine chose not to attend–or even apply to–some schools based on their location and climate. (For instance, one student chose not to apply to a school in Texas because she was so accustomed to cooler climates that she burned too easily in the sun!) Make sure that the location you choose is one you can appreciate throughout the year; you don’t want to find yourself dreading a climate that you’re forced to spend nearly four years of your life experiencing. This might call for a campus visit, in fact.
Distance from Home. Related to the last section, make sure you’re comfortable with the distance a school is from your home. Consider the following: How often do you want to return home or see your family? Is purchasing airplane tickets a financial possibility for your family? How will you deal with homesickness if you’re far from home? Do you have a chronic, unpredictable medical condition that would be easier to handle closer to home? Be sure to consider distance from all angles relevant to your life. Make sure you’re comfortable with the distance you will be away from home.
Appearance of the school and campus. This is an oft-overlooked factor for elite students applying to top colleges. Make sure that the school you ultimately decide upon is one that you won’t mind waking up to and seeing for a few years. Many students underestimate just how big an impact school appearance and campus can have on their feelings toward a school. Just like “#6: Location and Climate,” this factor of appearance may call for a campus visit.
Finances and cost. As much as we wish that this weren’t a factor, you must still consider your finances when deciding whether it would be wise or worth your money to attend the school that you’re considering. Many schools offer need-based financial aid, which can give qualifying students at least somewhat of a financial break from a full college tuition. You should check out the financial aid program for each school you’re interested in. Many schools have net financial aid calculators on their websites for students’ convenience. You may also be wondering about scholarships, which is another topic to consider in the finances category. Although many top colleges have nullified scholarships in favor of solely need-based aid, a large number of other schools will gladly consider applying any merit-based scholarships toward tuition costs. Double check on this for each school you’re considering.
Size of the school, Class size. If you like large schools, then you want to make sure that you do your research and don’t end up at a 2500-person college with a 600-person class size. Conversely, if you prefer small, tight-knit communities, then you should conduct some research to guarantee that you don’t find yourself feeling out of place at a 10,000-person college with a class size of 2,500 people. Try giving yourself a range for both school and class size to work with when you’re selecting colleges. That way, your size objectives are clearer and your search easier.
Public or private. If you have a preference for a public or private school, here is where it matters to do your research. Private schools tend to be costlier than public schools but receive more funding for specialized programs. Private schools—especially the Ivy Leagues—often tend to focus on need-based aid, while many public schools tend to emphasize scholarships over need-based aid, as the tuition is usually lower to begin with.
Urban vs. Suburban vs. Rural. If you absolutely abhor the idea of living in an isolated area, then conduct some research to ensure that the colleges you’re considering are not situated in rural areas. And conversely, if you come from a rural town and want to stay true to your roots, do some extra research to make sure you don’t wake up dazed in someplace like NYC. Suburban is a good middle ground for those who enjoy both urban and rural settings or who don’t have a preference for either.
And there you have it, CollegeVine’s exhaustive list of factors to consider in a college!
Whether you’re at the beginning or end of the college admissions process, it’s important to know that all of the above will affect your college experience. Until then, we hope that you find this list helpful in selecting college(s) that you’ll love.