Picking a College

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Choosing a college is a big decision. The school you go to could have a significant impact on the rest of your life. It's also a major investment of time and money. Just as with any investment, this is one you shouldn't enter into lightly. Before committing, you should do a significant amount of research so that you can be sure you're headed to the right place. The following guide will give you some ideas for how to go about your college search.

Area of Study

One of the first things you think about in regard to college is your major. Knowing this can help you pick a school. Different colleges have varying strengths. Some have fantastic biology programs, but are lacking when it comes to the arts. Others may have some of the best American literature professors in the country, but might not offer classes in complex mathematical theories.

If you know exactly what you want your major to be, you can narrow your search to schools that have that program. If you're not so sure about the specific major you'd like to pursue, try to pick a more general area of study. For example, if you have a stronger interest in math and science than you do in the arts, look at schools that have good math and science programs. You can figure out the specifics later on.


Only a small fraction of people can afford to pay for college outright; most will need financial assistance of some kind to make it possible. Scholarships can go a long way toward paying for college, but for many, student loans are the only viable option. So, when looking at colleges, consider what kind of debt you'll be putting yourself in by going there. It's up to you to decide which school will provide you with the best education for your money.

Other Considerations

While your major and price range are probably the most important factors in picking a school, there are some other things worth considering as well:
  • Location – Many people like to stay close to home when they're at college, while others jump at the opportunity to be out on their own. Going to college could also be a good opportunity to live in or near your favorite city, country, or even vacation spot. Location might affect your tuition as well, since in-state tuition is often cheaper than out-of-state tuition.

  • Housing - Living conditions can mean a lot when looking at schools. You might have found a great school that has a terrible campus. If this is the case, think about living off-campus, or, if it's just not worth it, continue your search.

  • Reputation – Some schools have a reputation for excellent education, while others might have a reputation for great student activities. A school's reputation may help you decide if it's the right one for you.

  • Friends and family – Going to school with people you know already can be a big help toward adjusting to college life. While there are more important factors in choosing a college, this one could be the tiebreaker between two colleges you like equally.

  • College visits – Sometimes, after visiting a college, you just know it's the right one. College visits can also help you get information you couldn't get otherwise. For example, you could ask current students what they think of the school or get a feel for the faculty.

TIP: Check out college rankings, like those provided by the Princeton Review, to help you in your college search.

All of these factors will have to be weighed against each other as you look at schools. You might have to sacrifice one for the other. Those decisions come down to what's most important to you. If you carefully consider all these things, though, you can head into college confident that you're taking a step in the right direction.

Sean McClain  Posted by Sean McClain on June 29, 2010

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