Choosing where to go to college can be overwhelming. Maybe you’ve wondered how to choose the right college or wondered what college is right for you. How do you decide?
If you’re just beginning your college search process, brainstorming some important and some more superficial characteristics you value in a college can help narrow down your search.
Step One: Get Organized
You know what else can help? A good ‘ole spreadsheet. We created a College Characteristics spreadsheet to help you implement the tips below during your college search process to help you decide the right college for you.
Click here to view the spreadsheet!
Once you open the Google Sheets link, just click “File > Make a copy” to create your own editable Google Sheet, or “File > Download” to download the spreadsheet to your computer.
Step Two: The Important Characteristics – What Are Your Deal Breakers?
Start by creating a list of what’s most important to you in a college – a list of deal makers and deal breakers. These are the characteristics that are consistent as you look at a variety of schools.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you form a list of important college characteristics:
- Are you interested in a certain study program or major?
- Are you interested in playing a certain sport or in a drama or music program?
- Do you feel more comfortable in an urban, rural, or suburban setting?
- Is there a particular state or region in which you want to be or maybe a region you want to avoid?
- How much does the school cost?
- What are your chances of earning and available opportunities for scholarships?
Sometimes it’s unclear exactly which characteristics are most important to you. So as you research schools, take note of what schools you’re drawn to; what characteristics do they share?
Once you’ve narrowed down schools by these characteristics, does your list reflect a variety of admittance percentages? Based on your grades, test scores, the general paper version of you, do you have some schools that are a bit out of a reach, some schools where you are pretty well located in the median, and some schools where you exceed their standards? You want to apply to a range of schools to improve your admittance chances. (You can learn more about that here.)
Step Three: The Superficial Characteristics – What Would Be “Nice”?
Superficial characteristics are just that – things that it would be really great or really nice if a school had but not essential to your decision to attend or not. Let’s imagine that you have made a great list of schools with varied admittance percentages. You have thought about the important things and made your list accordingly. But now you have to narrow it down – how are you possibly going to decide? Well, this is where the superficial list comes in.
As you research and visit schools, keep a list of things that strike positively or negatively about the schools – and no judgement about how minor these aspects are. Maybe you notice that the dorms of one campus are nicer or the food is better or there are more trees; you never really thought a lot about trees, but man, those trees sure are nice! You are not making the pretty significant decision about where to go to college based on trees… but maybe trees are going to help you decide between two schools that you really like.
You should make this list when the stakes are lower, when you are just thinking about what it would be like to attend the school. Sometimes your perspective changes once you’re admitted to a school. Referring to the list of characteristics you made when unbiased by an admissions letter can help you remember what you truly thought about a school when it comes time to make your final decisions and the stakes are higher.
These Lists Are Specific to YOU
The takeaway here is that these lists are personal – you want to discover which specific aspects of a school really matter to you. You want to make this list while you are the one shopping for schools. Make sure you are the one deciding which colleges you are interested in.
The acceptance and rejection part of the college application process is no fun, but it is also inevitable. You want to have a clear sense of what you want before you find out which schools you are accepted to so you can have the clearest mindset when deciding which school is right for you.