How To Choose The Right College: 7 Useful Tips & Advice

So you heard back from all the colleges you applied to and – good news! – you received multiple acceptances. First of all, congratulations! Your hard work in and out of the classroom, and on your college applications, paid off.

However, now comes the second hard part (the first was applying and getting accepted) – deciding where to go. Whether you’ve been accepted to two or 10 colleges, this can be a tricky task.

It’s a pretty significant decision (maybe the biggest one in your life so far) and there are so many factors to consider. Although you may be ready and excited to go to college, making the choice of where to go can be stressful.

Most colleges let you know if you’ve been rejected or accepted by April 1. However, since National College Decision Day – the day where deposits are due to the college you’re choosing to attend – is May 1, that doesn’t give you much time to make a decision. (There may be a few colleges that have a different decision date.) Here are some suggestions to help you figure out where to go – or at least narrow down your choices.

When considering your college options, it's important to weigh factors such as location, programs offered, and campus culture. You might also want to explore universities with high acceptance rates to increase your chances of securing a spot – you can find a list of such universities on this page.

1. Do some online research

Take advantage of all of the information that the internet has to offer, to look at both the basic stats and the student perspectives for each college. Even if you’ve already researched this information, it’s good to read through it again.

When looking at the basic college fast facts, like class size, percentage of students who graduate in four (or six) years, and post-graduate employment/graduate school acceptance rate, first check out the college website. While other college-oriented sites may have the same information, the one for each college is likely to have the most accurate and up-to-date data.

If you’re not looking at the college website, recognize that the information may not be correct – try to confirm the information by cross-checking it with another website. If you’re interested in factors like college rankings, check out reputable sources like U.S. News’ Best Colleges list.

For information about student perspectives and student life, check out college blogs, Facebook groups and forum websites (like College Confidential). They can help you get a deeper perspective into what it’s like being a student at each school. However, realize that a lot of information from these sources is opinion-based – they shouldn’t be taken as facts.

2. Re-visit the colleges

If you can, visiting the colleges you’re considering is a great way to help you make a decision. Even if you’ve already visited the campuses, you likely did so as someone figuring out if they wanted to apply; now you’re looking from the viewpoint of someone who’s been accepted.

You can re-visit the schools any way you want. If you decide to do another information session/campus tour visit, you can hear about the basic facts and get another pretty comprehensive look at the school. If you decide to just walk around on your own, you can explore buildings and places that particularly interest you.

Take a look around and see if you could picture yourself at the school. Can you imagine walking around, going to class and extracurriculars, and hanging out with friends at this college?

3. Reach out to the admissions offices

This is another way to get more information about each college, although it shouldn’t replace doing your own research online. Find out what you can online, and then for any questions that you can’t find the answer to – maybe it’s something more specific – ask an admissions counselor. This can be done in person (if you visit the college), over the phone or via email.

You can also ask the admissions office/admissions counselor if they can connect you with a current student who’s majoring in what you’re planning to major in (or who shares similar interests, if you’re undecided). Chances are, there’s a student ambassador group that the admissions office can reach out to.

Once connected, you can ask the student to share their personal experiences at the college – which is something you probably won’t be able to get by looking online. Ask them questions about the classes they’re taking for their major, the professors who teach the classes, what extracurriculars they’re taking (that relate to the major or not), what student life is like, etc.

4. Put together a spreadsheet

You should have a spreadsheet of all of the colleges that you applied to (when you applied, if/when you visited, any important deadlines, if/when you were accepted, etc.). This is really helpful for organizing all the information you have about each school, because after a while – especially if you visited and applied to a lot of colleges – information about each can get mixed up sometimes. However, if you have a spreadsheet with all the information, you can just refer to that.

For decision purposes though, put together a new spreadsheet – but first, figure out what’s important to you. What are you looking for in a college? Consider things like your intended major, extracurricular activities, school spirit, campus environment, class size, etc.

Once you figure that all out, list the colleges you were accepted to down the left side of the spreadsheet, and the important factors across the top (or vice versa – either works). Then, proceed to check off which schools have which factors – you might realize that one school has more of your key requirements than the others.

5. Create pro/con lists

This is especially helpful once you’ve narrowed it down to two or three colleges that you’re deciding between. If you have more than that, it can get kind of intimidating – go back to the spreadsheet and figure out your top three, then come back to this.

What you want to do is create lists of as many positives and negatives, that you can think of, that there are for each school. They can be big or small things, and they can be regarding anything about the school. If it crosses your mind, write it down – you can eliminate items later.

After you’ve written down everything you can think of, start to cross things out and prioritize the rest. Get rid of things that don’t matter to you, and then start to number or highlight the factors that matter most. When you’ve finished, consider both the number of positives and negatives that each has, but also the importance of each factor.

6. Be realistic

While most of the suggestions above deal with your preferences and what you want in a school, you also have to make a realistic decision. Some colleges might not be feasible for you, as much as you want to attend them.

While this mostly is about the financial aspect of college (and it can be significant), you also have to look at factors that will affect your comfort level. Yes, you want to try to get out of your comfort zone during college, but you don’t want to go so far that it will make you unhappy.

Therefore, you need to look at things like the cost of attendance, financial aid and any scholarships you received. With regard to personal comfort, consider things that would affect that, such as distance from home, surrounding area (such as city versus suburb versus country) and typical class size.

7. Reach out to family and friends

If you really can’t make a decision, talk to your family and friends for advice. Don’t ask them which college you should go to; instead, ask them for suggestions on other ways to make a decision (especially if they were in the same boat when they were about to attend college), factors that are important to you that you may not have thought of, and other pros and cons of each college that you may have forgotten about.

To reiterate, you shouldn’t ask others what college you should attend – although some will probably have a lot of thoughts about that. In the end, the choice should ultimately be yours – you’re the one who’s going to be attending the school for four (or more) years.

Figuring out which college to go to is no doubt a difficult choice. Weigh the different options, look at what’s important to you and make a final decision. Good luck!