- A college degree can open the door to better job opportunities and even a higher salary. According to a 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor's degree-holders earned over $500 more per week than high school graduates. What's more, many jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree.
Choosing a college that can help you achieve both your personal and professional goals is critical to your success. Ultimately, it's up to you to determine which factors are most important for your lifestyle and what you hope to get out of higher education. Once you've identified these factors, you can create a short list of schools and begin researching them.
In this guide, we explain how to choose a college that's right for you by looking at six factors, including location, school size, and cost.
When Do You Have to Decide on a College?
The process of choosing a college can be divided into two stages. The first takes place during the application process in the fall as you figure out which schools you want to apply to, and the second occurs in the spring after you've received admission decisions.
The national college decision deadline is May 1.
In the fall, most high school seniors apply to several colleges that interest them, though it's common to have a single top choice. You can use the factors below to help you narrow your list of schools to a more manageable number.
In the spring, once you've received admission decisions from all of the colleges you've applied to, you'll need to start thinking hard about which school you wish to attend. The following factors can help you choose the best school for you. The national deadline by which you must submit your college decision and nonrefundable deposit is May 1 (for enrollment that fall).
How to Choose a College: 6 Key Factors to Consider
Location is by far one of the most significant factors in choosing a college. By staying close to family, you can benefit from more affordable in-state tuition and save money by living at home. You can also cut costs on travel, since car rides are usually less expensive than airfare.
Consider whether you want to live in a rural area, a sprawling metropolis, or some place in between. Small college towns often engender a more intimate sense of community that lets you build strong relationships with peers and professors, whereas schools in large cities can grant you access to a variety of social and cultural activities, not to mention internships with major companies and nonprofits.
Despite what its marketing team may want you to believe, no school can offer the best programs in all fields of study. Before choosing a college, you can get a sense of its overall academic quality and reputation by looking at BestColleges' rankings.
Next, check that the college is regionally or nationally accredited. Regional accreditation is generally considered a more reliable indicator of academic quality. Then, investigate whether individual academic departments are accredited in their field. For example, if you plan on pursuing a business administration degree, you'll want a program that's been accredited by a professional association.
You might also try to gauge the career and research achievements of the faculty in your department by seeing whether they've won any awards or received recognition for any groundbreaking publications or discoveries.
Small colleges often provide specialized degrees, including self-designed majors.
While small schools may not offer as many programs as large universities, they do often provide specialized degrees — including self-designed majors — and a plethora of hands-on learning opportunities. Small colleges can also mean smaller class sizes, allowing you to easily access one-on-one support from professors and advisors.
Students with clear interests and goals tend to thrive at big universities because they can take advantage of the diversity in coursework, activities, and professional resources. Due to their superior funding, large schools typically maintain well-stocked libraries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and nationally recognized sports teams.
Choosing a college near your hometown generally means you'll get lower tuition rates. According to the College Board, in-state residents attending a four-year public institution pay an average of $9,410 in tuition and fees, whereas out-of-state students pay $23,890. Private colleges do not consider residency status, charging all learners an average of $32,410 per year.
On top of tuition, you'll need to factor in room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and other miscellaneous student fees when calculating the total cost of attendance.
The best colleges boast not only affordable tuition but also substantial financial aid packages. Make sure to speak with an academic advisor about the grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities offered at your prospective school.
Because personal and professional growth also occurs outside the classroom, it's important to examine the campus environment when choosing a college. Depending on your interests, you may want to look into schools with a strong commitment to Greek life or a vibrant art scene.
If you value the spirit of sports camaraderie, you might consider schools with renowned athletic teams so that you can attend games and other social events. Similarly, colleges with active intramural sports organizations can allow you to make friends through recreational and competitive activities.
If academic achievement is your main focus, consider enrolling at a research university that's recognized by the Carnegie Foundation. These institutions funnel substantial resources toward student and faculty projects.
Resources and Support Systems
To foster long-term success, you should consider your needs and wants as a whole person, not just as a student.
Make sure the school can accommodate any medical conditions you may have.
Before choosing a college, make sure the school can accommodate your spiritual life and any medical conditions or special learning requirements you may have. Many students experience homesickness and other emotional challenges when starting college, so it's a good idea to check the availability of counseling services and health and wellness programs ahead of time.
While writing and tutoring are ubiquitous among higher education institutions, be sure you can conveniently access these resources should you end up needing them.