6 Easy Steps for Picking the Right College

find the best college

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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