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Choosing a College

Choosing a College

Heading off to college is a major milestone in your life. Although this decision is ultimately yours, college admission professionals stress that your parents have an important role to play in the decision. Selecting a college is a high stress task for both young adults and their parents. Whether they say so or not, most students desire their parents' guidance and support. Working together as a parent-student team is ideal.

The primary goal:
Find a college that matches your individual needs and talents

Higher education institutions in the United States come in all types and sizes, from two-year community colleges to large state universities, from small private liberal arts colleges to elite universities, from technical institutes to professional colleges. Overall, the United States has more than 9,000 institutions of higher learning.

Which among the 9,000+ institutions of higher learning is right for you?

College admissions experts answer that question simply: the institution that best meets YOUR needs and talents. Such a school ought to challenge you while also making you feel comfortable.

Finding the best match means that the school that's right for you in a family is often not right for another. Achieving that also means that Mom's or Dad's alma mater may not be right for you. Also selecting particular types of schools because they have particular qualities or programs that your parent values (for instance, a respected four-year pre-law, pre-med, or business degree) is probably not the right decision if your talents, interests, and career goals are different.

College search questions

Answering these questions can help students and parents determine personal interests and whether or not each school under consideration has the key programs and qualities to meet those needs. It can also be used to help identify potentially good schools from among the many that send information to prospective students.

  • What do you want to study? Are you more interested in developing technical or vocational skills? You don't have to know what you want to major in yet.
  • Does the school offer a course of study in your area of interest?
  • What type of location is important – small town, large city? Close to home, within the state, a nearby state, or a far away state?
  • Do you want to go to a small school, middle-sized school, large school, or a huge school?
  • Do you want to go to a school with a particular religious affiliation?
  • Do you prefer a state or private school? Or, have no preference?
  • Do you want to live on campus, off campus, or commute?
  • Does the school require non-day students to live on campus?
  • Do you want to go to a coed or single sex school?
  • What's the total cost of a year's enrollment – tuition, room, board and expenses?
  • What kind of financial aid is available? What types of scholarships does the school offer – academic, athletic, or some other? Have you talked to an admissions officer or the financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may qualify for?
  • Is participation in extracurricular activities important? If so, which ones? Does the school offer these?
  • Are you interested in a co-op program that alternates work with school? Does the school offer programs in your area of interest?
  • Are you interested in an internship? Does the school offer internships? Some schools may require all students to complete an internship in order to graduate.
  • What other qualities are important in a college? What other questions need answers?

Find schools that meet your criteria

Once students and parents have the answers to these and any other questions, it's easy to use free online search tools to find schools that match their criteria. Here are two good resources:

  • College Navigator provides information on thousands of colleges and universities. Search for schools based on any combination of geographic region, state, city, distance from a zip code, type of school, programs offered, number of students, or other criteria.
  • College Source Online offers thousands of College Catalogs and a search.