Simplifying Your College Search

It’s no surprise that most students and their parents are pre-occupied with the college search process throughout high school. With more than 3,500 colleges and universities to choose from, many are bewildered by the selection process. In addition to academic skills acquired, college life will have an effect on social and professional opportunities and relationships.

Student Enrollment

  • Enrollment – Total % undergraduate students.  Freshman class size.
  • Retention -- % of freshman who returns for the second year.
  • Background – Male/Female ration.  % commuter/resident. Geographic origin.
    % underrepresented students. % receiving financial aid.

Location and Surrounding

  • Location – Geographical region. Distance from home. Travel costs and convenience.
  • Setting – Urban/rural. Weather. Nearest city. Recreational opportunities.
  • Facilities – Libraries. Laboratories. Studies and practice rooms. Student Center. Athletic/Fitness Center.

College Type and Philosophy

  • Type - 2 or 4 year. State, private, college, university.
  • Purpose – Liberal arts. Pre-professional for business, education, engineering, fine arts, etc.
  • Philosophy – Traditional/progressive. Scholarly/career-oriented.
  • Calendar – Semester/trimester/quarter.


  • Academic Requirements – Proportion of study to general education/concentration/electives. Required freshman courses or curriculum/distribution requirements in curricular areas/elective curriculum.
  • Academic Offerings – Majors offered in your areas of interest. Breadth and depth of courses offered in your areas of interest. Interdisciplinary courses and majors. Ability to design your own major.
  • Independent Study – Individual tutorials. Seminars. Research opportunities. Special Study Programs. Field work. Internships. Exchange programs. Foreign study. Joint degree programs. Cooperative work/study plans. Pre-professional programs.
  • Standards Accreditation – Degree requirements. Grading system. Grading/distribution. Honor system.


  • Deadlines – Application. Notification of decision. Reply to offer of admissions.
  • Application requirements – Information forms. Specific high school courses. Common Application. The Coalition Application. Secondary School Report Form. Supplements. Recommendations. Interview. Standardized Tests.
  • Admission Selectivity - % of applicants offered admission. Average SAT/ACT scores of freshmen. % of freshmen ranked in the top 10% of high school class. Freshman class profile.

Academic Environment

  • Faculty- % with PhDs. Origin of degrees earned. Original faculty research/scholarship. Teaching course load. Expectations for teaching/scholarship/advising and other college service. Emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning.
  • Faculty-Student Relationships – Faculty-student ratio. Accessibility for conferences. Departmental clubs, colloquia, committees with student representatives. Class size. Classes under 20 students, over 50+students. Opportunities for discussion/student presentation/exchange of ideas. Opportunities for research with professors.
  • Academic Demands – Workload. Course expectations. Type of assignments. Academic pressure-competition.
  • Intellectual Vitality – Student attitude toward learning. Flexibility/structure for study. Interest in political, social, or world issues.
  • Career Preparation – Career advising and information programs. % who go on to graduate school. Graduate and job placement.

Campus and Student Life

  • Types of Students – Diversity and tolerance of differences. Importance of money/material possessions/social appearances.
  • Living Arrangements – Predominantly large dorms/housing clusters/small houses. Availability of single rooms/doubles/suites/multiple rooms. Greek life and Greek housing. Housing based on academic or co-curricular interests. System of housing. Allocation/roommate selection. Centralized/decentralized dining. Alternate dining programs.
  • Campus Activities – Activities related to your interests. Emphasis on social life, fraternities, sororities, and athletics. Clubs and organizations. Presence of religious, ethnic, or cultural groups. Cultural opportunities on campus or in community.

Costs and Financial Aid

  • Costs – Minimum-maximum total costs per year. Student budget for tuition and fees/room and board/and personal expenses/travel costs. Admission and enrollment fees.
  • Family Resources – What can your family pay toward college expenses?
  • Awards - % of students receiving aid. Range of awards. Average award.
  • Financial Aid – Based on need/merit/or funds available. Loans.
  • Application – FAFSA, CSS Profile, Institutional financial aid application.

Prioritize which criteria are most important to you. Once you have developed a preliminary list of colleges, narrow it down by considering how each institution fits your criteria.