The U.S. Department of Education recognizes over 4,000 colleges and universities. With so many options, how do you choose a college? 

Apply to at least seven colleges

The first step in choosing a college is knowing your options and creating some competition. Make sure you apply to at least seven colleges to find the best-fit college for you—at the lowest cost. 

If you only apply to one or two colleges, you might miss the chance to negotiate for a much bigger scholarship or the opportunity to find the right college for you! 

Method 1 – Choose a College by Type of School:

As you make your college list, especially if you’re on a budget, be sure to include schools from each of these categories:

  1. Two in-state public universities
  2. Two in-state public colleges
  3. Two private colleges
  4. One community college

Variety will help you learn more about each type of school and find the right destination, but most importantly, should provide multiple price points and ultimately more leverage to negotiate a better scholarship offer.

How many colleges should you apply to?

Method 2 – Choose a College by Acceptance Rate and Cost:

  1. Two dream schools: These are schools you might not get into or might be too expensive. But it never hurts to apply and find out! 
  2. Two safety schools: These are two schools you are confident you will be able to get into and fit within your price range. 
  3. Three money schools: These are schools that offer large merit-based scholarships and would make it much easier to graduate with little or no student loan debt. 

Now that you have your initial list put together, one way or another, it’s time to ask the tough questions! 

Ask the Tough Questions

Will it be affordable? 

Many students have big dreams without considering the price. Make sure that the colleges you’re considering are affordable for your family so that you can avoid spending years paying off student loans. No one likes to be still paying for college past their 35th birthday! Have a conversation with your parents to break down the costs of college, considering what financial or merit-based aid you might receive. 

It doesn’t hurt to have some dream schools on your list, but make sure you’ve also added options that will be more affordable. 

What scholarships are available? 

Start by looking at the school website to see if they have a list of available scholarships. But then also talk directly to their admission department. This can be a great way to narrow down your list—or make your final decision.

Where is the college located? 

Where would you like to attend college? Most students attend college within a one-hour drive of where they live. But make sure you are invested on campus, not heading home every weekend to spend time with high school friends. You want to get the most out of your college experience, so dive in, expand your friend group, and use this as an opportunity to grow. 

The Midwest is the region typically with the least expensive colleges, but great-value schools also exist in other parts of the country. Think about where you want to attend and consider that factor when you make your choices. 

Can you participate in your main extracurricular? 

Many students retire from their main extracurriculars when they head to college. This doesn’t have to be. If you love playing a sport, look into intramural sports at large schools or consider smaller colleges so you don’t have to hang up the cleats! If you don’t plan to continue some of the same activities you did in high school, make sure you pick something new to participate in meaningfully. The students who get the most out of their college experience are the ones who are engaged on campus in many ways. 

How large of a school do you want? 

A significant factor in your college choice is the size of the student population. This typically translates into class size. A good question to ask is, “How many students do I want in my freshman English class?” 

If you want less than twenty, you need to be looking at smaller colleges. However, small classes are options at larger universities. Look into the Honors College or learning communities that the school offers to see if there’s a way to enroll in smaller classes, even at larger universities. Typically, smaller classes translate into more engagement. You’re more likely to learn and succeed when you actively participate in your classes and get to know your professors. 

What might your major be? 

While you don’t need to decide your major before you head to college, the college you attend must offer the majors you’re considering. If you want to study a more specific field that the college doesn’t offer, it might mean you need to cross the school off your list. 

What is the four-year graduation rate?

The four-year graduation rate is an indicator of the motivation of the student body at a potential college or university. You want to make sure the student body reflects your hard work and drive! You become like the people you surround yourself with, so choose a college full of focused, engaged, and motivated students. 

Take Advantage of College Visits and College Fairs

Now that you have your list together, learn more about the colleges. This might mean taking a college tour to visit a few schools or asking good questions to the rep at a college fair. Make sure you show your interest and learn as much as you can about the student body, the classes, the professors, and the college experience. 

So how do you choose a college? Once you have all the facts, it’s about finding the best-fit college for you at the best price (minimal debt!). Choose a college that will help you grow, without leaving you with years of burdensome student debt. Learn more about our College & Career Readiness for Families to see how we can help you get into the perfect college for you at the right price.