How to Choose the Best College for You

By Jennifer L Blair , last updated December 13, 2011

Because college is a costly investment and can have a long-term impact on one's career and earning power, people often struggle to find the right school. However, finding the best college for you is about more than simply choosing the school with the best reputation or highest ranked academic programs. To find the best fit, you must consider your personality and habits in addition to academic requirements so you know that you will be comfortable and happy at the college that you choose. If you are starting to think about college, keep these basic points in mind so you can be sure to find the best school for you.

Fit Your Personality

While academic and financial matters should influence your college decision, it is usually best to start with more basic questions. If you are an independent, self-sufficient person, a college that is out of state or a distance from your home may be a good fit. However, if you find that you prefer to be surrounded your family and old friends, you are better off choosing a school that allows you to live at home and commute, or at least to visit home frequently. Outgoing individuals may prefer a college that has an active fraternity and sorority system, while people who are extremely serious about their studies may want to avoid a school that has a party reputation. Be honest about your personality and needs, so you can identify the activities, resources, and facilities that are important for you in a college.

Consider Your Goals

Most students entering college aren’t entirely certain what they want to major in, but having some idea of your academic goals can help you identify the right college for you. For example, try to determine whether you want a general liberal arts education or if there is a specific field of study that interests you. You don’t need to decide whether you want to major in physics or chemistry, but knowing that your interest lies in science courses allows you to target schools with outstanding science departments. If you think you may want to become a doctor, look for a school with a strong pre-med program. For individuals who do not have a solid idea of what they plan to study, a college with a strong liberal arts program is a good fit, since students can take courses in a wide range of general subjects and figure out where their interests lie.

Think About Size

It may seem like an unimportant factor, but consider the size of the schools that you are considering for both social and academic reasons. If you are from a small town, finding yourself in the middle of a campus with 40,000 students may be overwhelming and unsettling. For students who come from heavily populated areas, a small college with only a few thousand students may seem claustrophobic. At the same time, colleges with a smaller student body typically mean smaller class sizes, so you can have more personalized interaction with your professors and fellow students. However, don’t worry if you are drawn to a school with a large student body. Large universities typically divide themselves into smaller colleges based around fields of study, so all of your classes won’t necessarily have hundreds of students.

Do Research

Once you know the features and qualities that you are looking for in a college, it’s time to do research to find schools that match your needs. There are several ways to identify colleges that may be a good fit for you. College guidebooks, like the Fiske Guide to Colleges or Princeton Review’s Best Colleges, contain profiles of hundreds of schools that can help you identify potential matches. You can also search websites like Petersons or U.S. News & World Report for information on schools. Once you identify schools that you might be interested in, visit their websites. Talk to your guidance counselor to see if she can put you in touch with any current or former students, so you can get a firsthand account of what life is like at a particular school.

Take a Tour

When you’ve narrowed your list of potential school to a select few, visiting the campus can help you get a better sense of whether the college is a good fit for you. Take an official tour of the campus to see the facilities and resources that it offers. If you have time, try to sit in on a class so you can see what the professors are like. Have a meal in the dining hall or at the student union to experience what the atmosphere is like. It can also be helpful ask some of the students how they like the school. The most important thing is to see if you feel like you would be comfortable there as a student, since even the highest ranked college in the world isn’t the right choice for you if you won’t feel happy and at ease there.

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