How to Shop for a College

on July 19, 2016

Throughout your college search, one of the most important things to remember is that you are the customer

What are you looking for in a college? Are you looking for a big or a small school? Do you want to live in a big city or a college town? Will you do better in smaller classes? What do you want to major in? Do you want to be close to home so you can come home on the weekends? Is money an issue?

One of my students received an athletic scholarship at an out-of-state school. After I congratulated her, I asked her if the school had her major - she said it didn't. So unless she was going to be a professional athlete, what was the point of going to that school? Similarly, many students tell me they want to go out of state or to a private school. The first question I ask is, “Is there money to go there?” You can have a dream school, but you need a reality check, as well. For instance, if George Washington University is my dream school but I don’t get enough scholarship and grant money to go there, I'll need another plan.

The way students select schools is interesting. My son wanted a school that was not in our home state of Florida, had cold weather, had a good business school and was somewhere where his mom couldn’t volunteer! He selected Indiana University. My daughter also wanted to go to an out-of-state school with a good business school. Her first choice was Penn State University. She visited Penn State in January. There were two connecting flights from Florida and the airline lost her luggage - both ways! She also got lost going from the airport to the campus. My daughter loved Penn State, but couldn’t see herself having to go through all the chaos every time she came home or went back to school. 

I have seen this time and time again with other students. One of my students wanted to go to New York University's film school. He got into NYU and Florida State University but wasn't accepted to either university's film school. He ended up at FSU, volunteered for two years in the film school and worked on his portfolio. He has since transferred to his dream school, NYU. Things happen for a reason!

Some students start at prestigious colleges only to encounter problems and stress and end up coming home and transferring to community college. I know of students who have gone to well-known colleges and had nervous breakdowns, started using drugs or have tried to commit suicide. Most of these students ended up back home. Some are going to community colleges and some are working full-time. Some have gotten back on track and have gone on from two-year schools to four-year schools.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when selecting a college. 

  1. Does the college have my major or a similar major?
  2. How is my major ranked in this school?
  3. What is the background and credentials of the teachers teaching my major?
  4. How big is the school? 
  5. How many students are in a class?
  6. What's the student-teacher ratio?
  7. Are online classes available?
  8. Can I study abroad in my department?
  9. What services does the career placement center offer?
  10. What companies recruit on campus?
  11. What kinds of internship opportunities are available?
  12. What are the school's demographics?
  13. Does this school have the extracurricular activities that I want? Does it have Greek life?
  14. What academic counseling is available?
  15. What are the dorms like? 
  16. Would I prefer a school in a city, suburban or rural setting?
  17. How much does the school cost (room, board, tuition)?
  18. How far away from home do I want to be?
  19. What is the retention rate (how many students go back to that school after their first year)?
  20. What's the library like?
  21. How available are apartments in the area if I don't want to live in student housing?
  22. Is the campus safe?
  23. How available are part-time jobs in the area?
  24. How easy or difficult is it to get the courses you want when you want them?
  25. How is the food on campus?

Some students do not make sense when selecting a college. Just because your friends go to a certain school, that doesn't mean it's the school for you. Go through the list above and figure out where you want to spend your next four years. Shop for a college carefully - you're the customer and the school you choose should fit your wants and needs perfectly.

Barbara DiAlberto has been a College Advisor and Consultant for 18 years, both in the school system and privately. She has helped thousands of students get into college. As the Territory Manager for The Princeton Review, Mrs. DiAlberto is still helping students get into college.

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