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
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.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
1 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
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.
1Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay 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.
2This 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. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student 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 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 5/18/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
4 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens.
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.54%- 6.40% (3.54% – 6.40% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.79% – 6.65% (3.79% – 6.65% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.72% – 6.11% (2.72% – 6.11% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.49% – 6.36% (3.49%-6.36% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.47% – 8.35% (1.47% – 8.20% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.45% – 10.74% (4.45% – 10.59% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.47% – 7.25% (1.47% – 7.10% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.40% – 9.64% (4.40% – 9.49% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.09%-6.23% (3.09%-6.23% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.48%-8.52% (5.48%-8.52% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.79% – 9.93% (4.79% – 9.85% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.39% – 12.82% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.88% – 7.38% (3.88% – 7.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are 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 May 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.44%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), 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. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
|2.00% – 10.01%*,1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.49% – 11.98%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.18% – 13.92%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.09% – 11.49%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.54% – 6.40%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|