How to Shop for a College

on July 19, 2016

It’s important to remember that during your college search you are the customer. Choosing a college is about your needs and wants. You shouldn’t be steered in the wrong direction by the reputation of a big-name college or false perceptions about a particular college — this is the time to be pragmatic and consider your future.


One of the first things you should consider about a college is its net price. You need to talk with your parents and review an institution’s typical financial aid awards to see if you can afford to attend. If you can’t, you need to pick a college that’s a better financial fit. You shouldn’t take out large student loans that you can’t pay back.


Another thing to consider when shopping for a college is the academic fit. If a college doesn’t have an area of study you’re interested in, it isn’t for you. There’s no point in going to a college where you can’t study a subject you want to pursue as a career. When scoping out colleges, make sure the institutions you add to your college list have a major or majors you are interested in.


Setting also is very important. Some colleges are located in quaint college towns with a strong sense of community. Others operate in the middle of bustling cities or are located in suburban areas. You need to pick an environment that’s right for you — do you crave city life in addition to your college experience or do you want to attend a college with a strong school spirit and regular, on-campus sporting events? It’s important to answer these questions honestly before you commit to applying to certain colleges.


Lastly, but most certainly not least, is the social fit of a college. You need to examine whether a campus offers clubs, organizations and activities that will bolster your resume and open you to different experiences. Large campuses offer more activities than small ones, so think carefully about what you’d like to do in addition to your studies.


As you go through your college selection process, here’s a handy list of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Does the college have a major you like?
  2. How large is the college? 
  3. How many students are in a typical class?
  4. What's the student-teacher ratio in your major?
  5. Are online classes available?
  6. What companies recruit on campus?
  7. What kinds of internship opportunities are available?
  8. What are the college’s demographics, including race, LGBTQ students and income distribution?
  9. Does this college have ample extracurricular activities? 
  10. What academic counseling is available?
  11. What are the dorms like?
  12. Would you prefer a city, suburban or rural setting?
  13. What is the net price of the college and can you afford it?
  14. How far away from home do you want to be?
  15. Is the campus safe and what are the crime statistics?
  16. How easy or difficult is it to get the courses you want when you want them?
  17. How is the food on campus?

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