Choosing the Right College

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Choosing the right college can be an intimidating process. Knowing important criteria to consider makes it much easier. I’ve created a printable worksheet and an automated version to help my own children and you determine the best college by removing the fear and emotion.

imposing stone college building with arched windows and tower with title text reading Choosing the Right College for You

I have helped my three children choose the right college for them. They each had different interests and criteria in choosing a college. We learned a lot in the process! I’m sharing what we’ve learned and the worksheet I created that makes the the decision less emotional and overwhelming.

Whether you’re narrowing down the right college for you to apply to or trying to decide from the acceptances which one you will choose, these tips are for you.

large wood door in stone building with benches to the right side

Choosing the Right College

It’s important that you realize that the right college for your parent, your sibling, your teacher, your neighbor or your friend is not necessarily the right college for you.

There are many factors to consider in choosing the right college for you.

  • Type of College
    • 4-year college or university – the distinction between college and university has changed over the years. You should research what is offered at the specific college or university you are considering.
    • 2-year community or junior college
    • Commuter School or residential program
    • Public or private or for-profit
      • Public – Owned and operated by the state it is located in
      • Private – Owned and operated by an organization or individual.
      • For-profit – Privately owned and operated. Often offers online degrees.
  • Location
    • Geographic
      • What is the climate?
      • Are there cultural differences?
      • Are there physical geographic differences to consider?
    • Distance from Home
      • How will you travel to and from college?
      • How often will you be able to come home?
      • What will you do for holiday breaks?
    • City, Suburb, Rural
  • Cost
    • In-state tuition at a public college or university is usually less than tuition at a private one.
    • Ivy League and top-ranked schools usually only offer needs-based scholarships, while schools ranked a bit lower often offer merit-based scholarships in addition to needs-based.
    • A list of full-tuition academic scholarships.
  • Program of Study
    • Does the school offer the program or degree you’re interested in?
    • If you’d like to double major, will you be able to double major across schools within the college? For example, are you allowed to double major in business and art or do you have to remain in the business or liberal art school for both degrees.
  • Rankings
    • What is the overall ranking of the college or university?
      • Be sure to check rankings from a variety of sources. Different organizations use different criteria to determine ranking.
    • What is the ranking of your program of study?
      • The highest ranked school may not offer your program of study or may not be highly ranked for it. Choosing a school that is more highly ranked for your specific program, may be the better choice over the more highly overall ranked school.
  • Extracurricular Activities
    • Every college offers many different extracurricular activities and often supports students founding new ones. But if there’s a particular activity that is important to you, research whether it’s available at the college.
  • Facilities
    • Dorms
    • Dinning Halls
    • Buildings
  • Size
    • Campus – Decide whether you’d prefer a larger campus with many facilities and resources or a smaller, cozier campus.
    • Student Body – Determine whether you want a smaller number of students where you can get to know people more easily or if you feel comfortable with a large student body.
  • The It Factor
    • Every student has a unique mix of interests and criteria in choosing a college. You have to look for the school that best matches your personality, your academic and extracurricular interests and other factors unique to you.

Why is it important to schedule college visits?

When you visit the college or university, it allows you to get a feel for that it factor and see if the overall college atmosphere is one where you’ll feel comfortable.

  • You meet representatives from the school, both staff and student volunteers.
    • The representatives that the school choose to represent the college says a lot about where they place their priorities.
    • The representatives also give you a feel for the personality of a sample of people at that school.
  • You get to see first-hand
    • The condition of the facilities
    • How far the freshman dorms are from classroom buildings
    • What the town or city around the campus looks like
    • What other amenities are available off-campus for dining, shopping and entertainment
    • What the parking situation is
    • Other factors that are important to you
  • You often get to see a typical dorm room and dining facility so you have an idea what is available on campus.
  • You can ask questions directly to college representatives.
  • Possibly have your “Ah-ha” moment.
    • My daughter called it the “Say Yes to the Dress Moment.” One of my children knew within minutes of stepping on campus that the school was her first choice (and she ended up attending that school and loving it). My other daughter never had that “ah-ha, this is the one” moment. Visiting the campus is often what helps you figure out which college is the right one for you.

I’m such a big believer in the benefits of college visits, if at all possible, that I’ve shared several resources:

College Scoops has reviews of hundreds of colleges of all sizes all over the country. They focus on providing insight from college students attending the school in addition to other useful information about the school and the area. They offer a wealth of both free and paid resources. My friends as College Scoops have offered my readers a special 25% discount if you use code Org31-20 .

red and blue worksheet to choose your college

How do I decide between colleges?

Unless you want to flip a coin or throw a dart at a dart board, you need to create a spreadsheet with the unique factors that are important to you and how the college ranks in those factors.

You can create your own spreadsheet or you can:

choose your college spreadsheet with blue, yellow and grey

In both versions, fill in the names of the colleges you’re considering in the left column.

In both versions, I’ve started you out with several factors to consider in a row at the top. I’ve left spaces for you to add your own unique considerations.

In both versions, in the blue row rank how important each of your considerations are on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being less important and 10 very important). This gives them a weight of importance. For example, you may want to consider whether the dining program is an ala carte or an all-you-can-eat model. However, that may not be as important to you as the national ranking of your program of study.

In the printable Choosing the Right College worksheet:

  • Place how well each school fulfills or meets the criteria for you in the upper white portion of the box. So, if a school is the highest ranked for your field of study then you would give it a 10 and if it only offers ala carte dining and you’d like all-you-can-eat you’d give it a ranking under 5.
  • Next, for each school multiply the weighted number in the blue box by the ranking in the white portion of the box and place that number in the red portion of the box. Do this for each criteria across the row for each college.
  • Finally, average the rankings in the red boxes for each college and place that number in the ranking box in the second column for the college.

Using the automated spreadsheet version of the Choosing Your College worksheet:

  • Place how well each school fulfills or meets the criteria for you in the box across the row for each college. Think about how well the college meets the criterion for you.
    • So, if a school is the highest ranked for your field of study then you would give it a 10 and if it only offers ala carte dining and you’d like all-you-can-eat you’d give it a ranking under 5.
  • As you fill these boxes in for each college, the spreadsheet will automatically calculate the average of your scores and the ranking you have given that school

For both versions, the schools with the highest total scores are your top choices.

It’s extremely important to note, that the final decision is yours, not the worksheet’s. The purpose of using the choosing the right college worksheet is to give you information by thinking about what is important to you in a methodical way and taking emotion out of the process.

However, emotion is an important part of the decision for many students. Once you evaluate the results of your worksheet, you can add emotion back into your decision-making process and make the very best decision in choosing the right college for you.

With my experience as the mother of three college students and a professional organizer, I’ve shared all my tips and resources for choosing a college, preparing for and moving to college in my Top Tips for College Success resource page.

Be sure to pin so you can find this Choosing the Right college resource for your other children (yes, mom and dad, I know you’re reading this) or for yourself in the future.

See all my tips, ideas, printables and care packages in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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