Choosing The Right College: A Guide

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For students who are deciding between schools to attend or which colleges to apply to, this guide directs you through all the decision points and considerations to make.

Choosing a college can be fun, but it’s not something to take lightly. There are so many variables to consider, and it’s hard to know where to begin. Start by reviewing the resources in this guide to help you make smart choices when it comes to preparing for college, selecting a school, and getting accepted. There’s even some great information about financial aid from trusted sources.

Preparing for College

The more you do to prepare yourself for college, the more options you’ll have when the time comes to choose one. No matter where you start, use the sound advice contained in the following section to help guide you. There’s advice specifically for high school students, general tips for prospective students of all ages, and fun ways to explore potential colleges.

Year-by-Year College Planning Checklist — If you’re still in high school, check out this page on college preparation. Click on your grade level, and get a checklist filled with tips and resources to help you get on track to a great college education.

Find the Best College — This resource page, by ConsumerReports.org, features information and advice to help you pick the college that’s best for you. Find out what you should ask yourself before deciding, what admissions boards are looking for, and get access to helpful tools like a college comparison worksheet.

CampusTours.com — Pay a virtual visit to college campuses across the country with video tours, photorealistic maps, and other fun ways to check out different schools without leaving your house.

ACT College Planning Resources — From this page, you can access all kinds of tools and advice to help you prepare for your college education. Learn how to ready yourself academically and otherwise using the helpful checklists and tips.

College Comparisons and Ratings

How does the school you’re considering stack up against the competition? It often depends on what you’re looking for, but some schools tend to rank better than others in terms of the value they offer students. Browse some of these rankings and ratings to get some insight into what a particular school has to offer compared to others.

Niche College Rankings — Compare colleges across the country using this free tool. Polls and reviews by real students will give you insights into schools that you won’t find elsewhere.

College Confidential — Visit this site to connect with students around the country to discuss everything from admissions to campus life, and get the inside scoop on the schools you’re interested in.

US News & World Report College Rankings —Every year, U.S. News & World Report releases its annual rankings, consisting of nearly 2,000 colleges. You can also start a free account to save your searches, compare schools, and take notes for later.

College Scorecard —This site was created by the U.S. Department of Education to help students make smart choices when selecting a college. Use it to research tuition costs, programs, and post-graduation salary statistics of various schools.

Worksheets, Quizzes, and other Aids

Colleges are as different as individuals. There are public and private universities, community colleges, vocational schools, and research institutions. Some schools are known for their vibrant campus life or stellar athletic departments, while others are lauded for their intimate setting and smaller class sizes. Do you see yourself going to school in a big city, or would you prefer a quiet campus in a more rural area? If you’re not really sure what type of college would be the best fit for you, spend some time on the following sites to help you find your match.

College Match Quiz — Answer the questions to get matched with schools that suit you. You’ll have to provide some basic biographical information, such as what area you live in and what type of student you are.

Choosing the Right School —My College Path is a site created to help students chart the course for their college education. This page focuses on selecting the right school, and includes a college match quiz. The site also has an impressive collection of articles full of insights and information about going to college.

Choosing a Major — This Princeton Review article gives a basic rundown of some things to consider when selecting a major.

College Matchmaker Quiz — Take this quiz from Forbes for some suggestions on which top colleges are your best matches. Answer some questions about what you hope to get out of your college experience, and see a list of colleges that fit the bill.

Tips and Advice 

Use the following resources to educate yourself about higher education. These pages and sites focus on helping students to make an informed decision when selecting a school. Learn about common mistakes — and how to avoid them, and find out what you should ask yourself before you decide on your top choices.

Top 15 Mistakes to Avoid — Don’t choose your college for the wrong reasons. Read this article to ensure that you’re not making one of these common mistakes.

10 Steps to Picking the Right College — This U.S. News & World Report article suggests some simple steps to help guide you through the process of selecting a school you’ll love.

The Right Choice for the Right Reason — Students may be inclined to select a college based on prestige, what they think others expect them to do, or other factors that may not ultimately serve their best interest. Read this article, and take an honest look at your decision-making process.

Choosing a College for Athletes — This NCAA page goes through some things student athletes should ask the coaching staff at potential schools in order to determine whether they are a good fit.

Getting In

So, you’ve decided on a school — or at least narrowed it down to your favorites. Now, to get accepted. Whether you have your heart set on a particular school or you just want some sound advice regarding the application and admissions process, the resources in this section can provide real-world help.

Tips on Getting in to Highly Selective Colleges — This page is packed with great tips to help you figure out what exclusive colleges look for when admitting new students. There’s even some school-specific advice straight from those who have worked in their admission departments.

Big Future by The College Board — This page is full of helpful resources for students. Find out about financial aid, search colleges, and create a step-by-step plan to help you prepare for college — no matter where you’re starting from.

Expert Application Tips — Look here for sage advice from the trenches of college admissions. Get insider tips straight from the experts.

6 Application Mistakes to Avoid — No matter what a great asset you might be to a school’s student body, making even one of these mistakes on your application could land you in the “rejected” pile. Make sure you know what not to do by following these tips.

Financial Aid

Choosing a school can be stressful, paying for it even more so. Thankfully, there are a lot of options for students who need some help covering tuition and other expenses. Use these links to explore the world of financial aid. Find out what about the different types of loans, grants, scholarships, and other programs that can help you finance your education.

FAFSA.gov — Filling out your FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the first step in finding out what kind of aid is available to you. Use the official FAFSA site to access yours.

10 FAFSA Mistakes That Affect Financial Aid — Now that you know about the FAFSA, make sure that you understand what it all means. Don’t make a mistake that could cost you the financial aid you need.

Choosing a Loan That’s Right For You — This page, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, outlines the different types of loans and offers some advice for how to choose the one that suits you best.

FTC Scholarship Scams Page — Scholarships are a great way to help fund your college education and, unlike loans, don’t have to be paid back. Just make sure you don’t fall victim to a scam. Check out this page, published by the Federal Trade Commission, to stay in-the-know about the latest scholarship scams.