6 Easy Steps for Picking the Right College

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With over 3,000 four-year colleges in the U.S., it’s tough to choose just one. How can you narrow down your list and find the perfect match?

Well, before even researching colleges, you need to do some serious self-reflection. Think about your goals and preferences, so you know what you want in your college experience.

Then you can search for schools that match your personal criteria. You may not know exactly what you’re looking for yet, but clarifying your goals will be a huge help in the college process.

Here are the six most important steps you need to take to find the best college.

How do I find the best college for me?

1. Interview yourself

If you’re wondering how you can possibly find the best college, you’re in the right place. To start, sit down and have a heart-to-heart with yourself. The college search is a time for genuine self-reflection.

Where do you want to spend the next four years of your life? What do you want to study? What type of environment makes you happy?

The college search process may be the first time you’ve ever had so much independence. You don’t have to have your whole life figured out, but you should have a general sense of what you like and don’t like.

Remember, you’re going to be the one spending the next four years living and learning at college. Not your parents, siblings, teachers, or school counselor. You. So you need to choose the college and major that are right for you.

2. Consider all major factors

Once you’ve reflected on your likes and dislikes, you need to consider major factors of college selection. First, think about what academic environment you want. Are you looking for a highly ranked school with selective admissions? Or would you prefer a college with a more forgiving admissions process?

If you know what you want to study, then look for a school that offers your major. Some schools are known for high-quality programs in certain fields. If you plan to be an engineer, for instance, then look for a college with a reputable engineering program.

Location, size, and setting are also very important. Some students want to explore a new state, while others prefer to stay close to home. Some want the buzzing energy of a big city school, while others would love a leafy campus with just a few thousand students.

Finally, consider the cost of tuition and financial aid. You can’t predict exactly what financial aid package the school will offer you, but you can see whether it typically meets demonstrated need. If you’d have to take out massive student loans to get a degree, then that college might not be worth its high price tag.

3. Don’t forget about secondary factors

Are you a devoted member of Amnesty International? Have you played football your whole life? Has studying abroad in Paris always been a dream of yours?

Whatever your interests, you should make sure the college offers opportunities for you to pursue them. Beyond academics, look for specific clubs, sports, internships, or study abroad programs. These activities will enhance your college experience. Plus, they could even help you land a job after graduation.

4. Use search engines and ask for advice

Once you’ve considered all the right factors, you’re ready to start the college search. Check out college search engines, like College Board, Cappex, and College Navigator, to find the best colleges.

All of these search engines let you filter results by categories like location, size, and grade point average. Do research on these schools, and ask around for advice. Your school counselor is an excellent resource, as are older students, teachers, siblings, and parents.

But remember that everyone’s advice reflects their individual perspective. The right school for your older brother isn’t necessarily the right school for you. Since you’ve already taken the time to reflect on your preferences, you’ll be able to filter the advice. You can take what applies to you and respectfully shelve the rest.

5. Visit college campuses

If you can afford to, visit campuses of the schools you’re interested in. You’ll learn a lot about a school from going on a tour, checking out its buildings, and walking on campus. Some schools also offer overnight visits, where you can meet current students and experience the college culture.

Beyond facts and figures, a campus visit will let you feel the vibe of a school. Try to visit when the semester is in session rather than when everyone’s away for vacation. And trust your intuition. Whether you feel right at home or completely out of place, you should go with your gut.

6. Create lists of schools

Once you’ve managed to find the best colleges, divide your list. You should have two to three safety schools, two to three on target schools, and two to three reach schools. Safety schools are ones where you have a strong chance of acceptance. Your grades and test scores are well above the average scores of accepted students.

Target schools match your academic profile. Reach schools accept students whose grades and test scores are a bit higher than yours. By including all three types of schools, you’ll maximize your chances of getting in somewhere.

By the way, all the schools on your list should be ones that you’d be happy attending. If the idea of going to your safety school makes you miserable, then keep searching for one that feels like a better fit.

How to find the best college for you

There are lots of options for colleges across the country — and across the world — but you can easily find the best colleges and narrow down your list. To get started, you must ask yourself some deep questions.

What do I enjoy studying? What kind of atmosphere makes me happy? Do I want to go to a big school with lots of resources, or would I prefer a small campus with a low professor to student ratio?

There are no right or wrong answers here. The challenge is figuring out what truly makes you excited and motivated to learn. While people around you may have strong opinions, you also need to listen to your inner voice.

Additionally, you need to think about the cost of college. You don’t want to compromise your future by taking on the burden of huge student loans at age 18. With the cost of tuition continuously rising, be aware of the long-term financial implications of your decision.

The college process requires a lot of research and energy. By starting early, you can find your best fit. For more college advice, check out this article on the worst pieces of college advice every student should ignore.

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College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


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Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
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  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.250% as of October 1, 2019. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
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Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

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Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.70%. Variable interest rates range from 2.80% – 11.06% (2.80% – 10.91% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

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