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How to Choose a College: Guidelines for students and parents

An article on how to select a college, and factors you should consider…

You worked hard during the academic year and you just want to chill out this summer. You can make that trip to the beach, however, and still get the ball rolling on your college search. What criteria should you use for creating your college list? The guidelines which follow are intended to assist you in that process.

1. Financial Fit and Aid
Discuss college finances with your family. Federal, state, and college scholarships and assistance are worth exploring, though keep in mind that the most competitive colleges nationally often have the most generous financial aid packages.

2. A School’s National Academic Status Relative to Other Schools
Undergraduate schools rankings are often indicative of the quality of undergraduate life from classroom experiences to facilities and support services. Moreover, they count in the real world when you apply for graduate school or explore the job market. US News and World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” issue is worth examining along with alternative ratings produced by Forbes magazine and Kiplingers.

3. College Majors
Find out whether a school offers the academic subjects you are most interested in. As your college search progresses, you can contact academic departments to find out about class size and the percentage of courses taught by full-time tenured and tenure track professors.

4. Placement in Graduate/Professional Schools and Jobs
Pose questions to schools and departments of possible majors about how their students fare in their graduate school applications and in the job market.

5. Academic Environment
The location and size of the campus and surrounding community and the weather should be considered.

6. Your classmates
The composition of the student body including the male/female ratio, and student attitudes on studying, leisure activities, and even politics can be pertinent.

7. Programming and student life
Honors programs, academic advising, internships, health services, and job counseling are worthy of examination.

8. Extracurricular Activities
Clubs, inter-collegiate sports, intra-murals, and community service opportunities are areas of inquiry.



As you winnow down your college list, find out if there are alumni in the area that you can talk to. Plan college visits where you can arrange for an interview, meet staff and faculty, and informally talk to students. A college counseling and test preparation service can assist you with the logistics of finding the right schools and tailoring your applications to them.

David Dickson is an academic counselor with Top Test Prep, which offers private tutoring and test prep with admissions experts who help you gain admission to your top schools. Call (800) 501-Prep to learn more.

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