Choosing a College

With over 4,3001 degree-granting institutions offering post-high school education in the United States, choosing the right school can be daunting. Although the final choice is an individual one, careful (and early) planning is essential. The following list of key points can help in the decision making process.


One of the first questions a student faces is whether or not he or she will be accepted for admission to a particular school.

  • Qualifications: Does the student have the necessary academic and personal qualifications?
  • Ability to pay: Does the school consider ability to pay as a factor in considering an application? Most colleges evaluate applications on a need-blind basis.
  • Popular schools: Certain, popular big-name schools may be extremely difficult to enter simply because an overwhelming number of students apply. Lesser-known schools may provide an equal education and have admission standards less difficult to meet.


With the continually rising cost of a college education, paying for school is often a major concern.

  • Affordability: How affordable is a school? In general, public schools, partially subsidized by tax dollars, tend to be less expensive than private institutions.
  • Living expenses: A family may want to weigh the cost of dormitories or off-campus housing versus the cost of having the student live at home and commute to a local school.

1Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 317.40, Number of degree-granting postsecondary institutions and enrollment in these institutions, by enrollment size, control, and classification of institution: Fall 2016.

  • Cash flow or savings? Can the education be paid for from current cash flow? If not, has enough money been saved to pay for the entire education or are additional funds needed?
  • Student debt: Is the student or family willing and/or able to take on the financial burden of student loans?
  • Financial aid: How much and what type of financial aid can a school make available? Some forms of aid are based on need; others on merit.
  • Scholarships: Are there scholarships available for which the student may qualify?


What type and quality of education does the institution provide?

  • Specific programs: For those individuals with clear ideas of what they want to do in life, does the school have the specific type of education and training needed?
  • Breadth: For students who are less sure of their career goals, does the institution offer the breadth of courses and majors needed for a good liberal arts education? Can a student be undeclared until a major is chosen or must a major and course of study be decided upon immediately?
  • Academic standards: Are academic standards rigorous or relaxed?
  • Time to complete: Can a student complete a course of study in four years? Overcrowding may mean that key required courses are not available when needed.
  • Class size: Are classes large or small? Do the professors do the teaching or is much of the teaching done by graduate students and/or teaching assistants? How much personal contact is there between professors and students?
  • Special programs: Are special academic programs available, such as internships or study abroad programs?


Each college or university has its own personality. Will the student enjoy living and working at a particular school and with a particular student body for four years?

  • Size: Large institutions can offer greater choice, both academically and in extracurricular activities; however, their large size may be intimidating to some students. Smaller schools can be more personal, with greater opportunities for student involvement.
  • Religious affiliation: A religious focus to campus life may be an important consideration for a student.
  • Student body diversity: Is it important that a student body be widely diverse? Or, would a student feel more comfortable at a school where one ethnic or socio- economic group is predominant?
  • Social life: What is the predominant “flavor” to the social life on campus?
  • Athletics or other extracurricular programs: Does the student have an interest in a sport or other extracurricular activity that may not be available at certain schools?


Very often the geographic location of a college is a major factor in deciding which school to attend.

  • Locale: Should the student live at home or move out to attend school?
  • Distance: How far is a school from home? The cost of round-trip transportation between home and school can affect how often a student is able to return home.
  • Housing type: What type of housing is available? Do most students live in school dorms or is off-campus housing the preferred choice?
  • Community: Urban, rural, or suburban? Institutions located in large cities offer diversity, while schools located in rural areas can offer a strong sense of community. Institutions located in suburban areas can offer both.
  • Region: Which part of the Country? A student from one part of the country may simply want a change and choose to attend a college in a different area. For example, a student raised in a large city may want to attend a school located in a rural area; a student from the Northeast may want to study on the West Coast.
  • Safety: How safe is the school environment? Federal law requires colleges to make campus crime statistics available to students and applicants.

Additional Resources

There are a number of excellent college guides and handbooks available in bookstores and public libraries. State and federal agencies involved in higher education are also excellent sources of information. Information may also be found on the internet: