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How to Choose a College

Choosing a college can be challenging and sometimes seem downright impossible with so many options out there. With such a vast variety of colleges and universities, it can feel overwhelming  to make a final decision. You might not even know what you want out of a college, and that’s okay! In this guide, we’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when determining which school is the best fit for you. 

How to choose a college: Key factors to consider


Academics should be your top priority when figuring out where to attend school.  It’s essential that you pick a college that meets your expectations for program offerings, approach to education, and quality of academics. After all, your main reason for going to college is to further your education. 

Different types of colleges and universities vary when it comes to the academic focus they provide. 

Liberal arts schools

  • Private liberal arts schools encourage students to broaden their academic horizons by studying a wide range of subjects. 
  • These schools are also known for their small class sizes and personalized academic instruction. 
  • Liberal arts colleges are great if you’re looking for a well-rounded education, but they generally have fewer research opportunities and degree offerings than large, public universities. 

Read more:  What are the benefits of a liberal arts education?

Public research universities 

  • These types of schools offer top-notch research opportunities and a wide range of degree offerings. 
  • Large state schools are an attractive option for students who want a large field of programs to choose from.
    • For instance, Texas A&M University is divided into nearly 20 colleges featuring programs such as agriculture, architecture, business, dentistry, and engineering. 
  • You can expect larger class sizes and less individualized teaching methods at big state schools. 

Read more: Liberal arts colleges vs universities: everything you need to know

Overall cost

After academics, overall cost is the next biggest factor that comes into play when deciding on a school. When making your list of potential colleges, nothing should be off the table in the beginning. Don’t shy away from considering certain schools just because their tuition rate seems out of your range. Scholarships and need-based financial aid can make it possible to pay for college and turn your dream school into a reality. 

With that being said, there are a few things you should keep in mind when considering cost. If you choose to attend a public university instead of a private one, you’ll benefit from lower tuition rates. Moreover, you’ll pay even lower tuition rates if you attend a public school in your home state rather than out-of-state. 

But remember that while private schools may appear expensive, sometimes financial aid packages can make them just as (if not more) affordable than public schools. Due to their large endowments, private schools have the capability to award larger grants and scholarships than public schools. According to the NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study (TDS), private institutions extended an average of 54.5% tuition discount to undergraduates for the 2021-22 school year. 

School size 

How big of a school do you want to attend? This is an important question to ask yourself when figuring out where you’ll go to college. As you probably know, colleges and universities come in all sizes. There are  liberal arts schools with student populations under 1,000, and big state schools that enroll over 30,000 students. And of course, there are a whole lot of mid-range schools that fall in between. 

Small schools and big schools each have their advantages and drawbacks.

  • If you’re looking for small class sizes, personalized instruction, and a closely-knit campus culture, then a smaller university might be a good fit. 
  • But if you want to be part of a lively campus culture, cheer for nationally recognized sports teams, and pick from a wide selection of degree offerings, then a big school is probably the way to go. 
  • Keep in mind that school size is closely related to whether the school is public or private. Private schools are usually on the smaller side, while public schools tend to be much larger. 

Campus environment

Now it’s time to consider what you’re passionate about outside of academics, and which schools best match those interests. Maybe you want a school with a big commitment to Greek life and renowned athletic teams, or perhaps you’re looking for a college with a vibrant art community. Your school’s campus culture has the potential to shape your college experience, so it’s important to pick a school that aligns with your preferences. 

Campus environment oftentimes goes hand in hand with school size. As we’ve mentioned, large schools are likely to have bustling campus environments with plenty of clubs and organizations, sports events, and social activities. On the other hand, large schools can’t match the intimate campus culture found at smaller schools. If you like the idea of spotting familiar faces in the dining hall or on your way to class, then a small school might be right for you. 

Although size is a big contributor, you can’t assume everything about a school’s campus culture based solely on its student population. It’s entirely possible to stay busy with student clubs and social activities at small schools, and there’s certainly potential to develop close-knit friend groups at large schools. Ultimately, the best way to get a feel for a school’s culture is to take a campus tour and ask questions along the way. 

Read more: How to get involved on campus


While geographic location shouldn’t make or break your decision, it’s certainly a key factor to consider. You should think about whether you want to live in a rural area, a big city, or somewhere in between. 

Rurally located schools like Appalachian State University are great for students who enjoy outdoor activities. Plus, schools in small college towns tend to have a more intimate sense of community. Meanwhile, schools such as the University of Maryland are perfect for students eager to explore their urban surroundings and take advantage of various social and cultural events. Not to mention, colleges and universities located in cities provide students with access to internships with big-name companies. 

You should also consider how far from home you’re willing to venture. By choosing to stay close to home, you can benefit from more affordable in-state tuition, frequently visit family, and save on travel costs. On the other hand, attending school out-of-state can introduce you to a brand new environment, help you gain independence, and encourage you to make new friends.

Academic perks

Finally we have academic perks, which include study abroad programs, internship opportunities, career services, undergraduate research, and honors programs. Think of these perks as the icing on the cake when it comes to choosing a college. They’re great to have, but not absolutely necessary. Of course, some of these may take a higher priority in your book depending on what you want. 

For instance, studying abroad is an opportunity that a lot of students don’t want to miss. Getting the chance to take classes in another country and experience a foreign culture is an unforgettable experience. Additionally, a quality career services center can help you find internships, which in turn can set you up for post-graduate employment. And let’s not forget about undergraduate research, which many students find to be a rewarding academic experience.  

Student Voices

When I was deciding on a college, the amount of scholarship money mattered, but I was also interested in a large campus with an acclaimed curriculum for my major. Personally, I wanted to be a little bit farther away from home and once I went on a tour of my college campus, I was sold! It just felt like the right fit.
Varonika Ware

Writer at Scholarships360

Senior at Louisiana State University

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of important factors to consider when you’re choosing a college. In a perfect world, you’d find a school that checks off every single box. That can definitely happen, but it’s not always the case. Ultimately, your goal should be to obtain the best possible education for the lowest price. To make that happen, you may have to do a bit of compromising in the areas that we’ve discussed. But if you determine your priorities and stick to them, you’re sure to find a college that’s right for you. 

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing a college can be an overwhelming task, but determining what you prioritize in a school early on makes the decision easier
  • The key factors to consider when choosing a college are academics, overall cost, school size, campus environment, location, and academic perks 
  • The goal should be to obtain the absolute best possible education at the lowest price
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about choosing a college

What are some questions I can ask myself before choosing a college?

Here are a few questions to contemplate before choosing a college:
  • What is most important to me?
  • What do I want out of my college experience? 
  • Is there a specific major that is sparking my interest? 
  • Which school had the best academic programs for my goals? 
  • Are there any clubs or activities I want to join at this college?
  • Do the housing options fit my wants?  

I’ve been accepted to multiple colleges: How do I pick between them?

The best thing to do in this situation is to make a list to compare the colleges. This will allow you to visually see what features about each school standout to you or what features are lacking from the college. When you are comparing the colleges think about the following factors:
  • Cost of attendance
  • Location
  • Academics
  • Campus life

Is it normal to doubt my college choice?

It is very normal to have second thoughts about your college decision. The college admissions and selection process is a nerve-wracking one for many students. With the large number of school options, it can be hard to determine if you made the right decision in your college choice. Just remember even if you did make a college choice that is not the best fit for you, you can always transfer colleges in the future!

Can I accept more than one college offer?

It is considered unethical to put down more than one deposit to attend a college. This is because it is unfair to the college and other applicants as you are taking up a spot that could go to another applicant.