If you’re asking where should I go to college, you’re either at the beginning of your search process with no clue where to start, you’re holding a bunch of acceptance letters agonizing between them, or you’re stuck somewhere in the middle trying to muddle through. 

But regardless of where you are in the process, you want to be asking yourself the same essential questions about whether the schools you’re considering are the best possible fit for you.

This article will explore:

  • The most important elements to focus on when deciding on a college
  • How to start looking for colleges
  • How to keep track of all the college info and turn it into something useful as you expand your college search
  • How to compare colleges to ultimately select your top choices

Whether you’re gathering intel or whittling your list down, let’s start with the top tips to focus on.

How To Pick Your Best-Fit Colleges

One of the biggest mistakes that college hopefuls make is not letting their own priorities and goals be in the driver’s seat. By all means, listen to advice and read all the materials you can get your hands on, but don’t make college admissions decisions based on what someone else values or desires. 

For example, many students will mistakenly prioritize U.S. News college rankings, not realizing that these rankings are based more on economics and perceived desirability than on actual, measurable criteria for the betterment of the student. 

College rankings are problematic and more useful for colleges than for students trying to decide where to go to college. They’re not reflective of what or how well you’ll learn, what your friendships or support system will be like, or how you’ll be prepared for future employment.

You deserve a school that makes you happy and pushes you in the direction of your greatest dreams.

And the only way to find it is to be very clear about what you want from a college education and what you hope your life will look like once you graduate. 

You deserve to go to a college that checks off all these boxes:

  • Won’t cause you to go deeply into debt
    • School is important, but there is no reason to be in long-term debt for it. There are too many ways to make financial considerations easier, too many colleges that have either lower tuition or will be willing to offer you more assistance. Don’t just look at the initial sticker price though – strategize about merit aid and scholarships. Make sure you’re leveraging your ACT & SAT scores. Start planning and applying for things as early as possible.
    • The cost question can feel overwhelming and confusing. If you want personalized assistance to manage your $$ goals and make the smartest fiscal decisions for your family and current circumstances, invest in expert private college counseling to make your money go further.
  • Is a good cultural fit with your personal style and goals
    • It is important to find where you can be valued for exactly the person you are and what you hope to achieve.
  • Will provide the day to day lifestyle that helps you thrive
    • Only you can decide how you want to live your life - and only you can decide where you can find an environment that supports your choices.
  • Wants you as part of their student body
    • The best options for you are where the school values what you have to offer and realistically wants you to be there.
  • Has the degrees and programs you enjoy or need to study
    • Whether the advanced education is for liberal education, apprentice or vocational training, or a foundation for advanced degrees leading to specific careers, spend time now deciding your best educational route.
    • According to the US Department of Education, employment rates are dramatically higher for both males and females with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Invest time in your own future to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a degree.
  • Has the extracurricular offerings that suit your interests
    • There are plenty of hours when you are not in an actual classroom. Determine in advance whether there are activities that excite you and may even lead to future career opportunities.
  • Offers the class sizes that you will be most comfortable with
    • Some students are happy to be hidden in a crowded room, while others want to be an important part of the discussion in a smaller group of students - which are you? 
  • Have students that you want as your classmates/peers/future colleagues
    • When you get out into the workforce, you’ll quickly discover that the statistics bear out: More than 70% of all jobs aren’t even posted on job sites and over 80% are filled by personal and professional connections. So go to the school with the kind of students you want to be stuck working for and within the next 40 years.
  • Has professors that you want to learn from
    • Impressive? Well-connected? Friendly? Accessible? Relaxed? Motivational? Consider what types of teachers you have done best with in high school for perspective.

This list might make it sound like you’re looking for the holy grail. 

But you’re not. So don’t be discouraged. 

There are many perfect schools out there for you. 

So let’s get to diggin’ for ‘em then weeding ‘em out!

How To Start Looking For Colleges

Even though it can feel incredibly intimidating, the college admissions process can be fun too. 

According to many psychologists and neuroscience studies, (ever seen Shawn Achor's TedTalk?), it’s possible to be more productive, more successful, and even up to 31% smarter with a positive mindset.  

So keep a positive attitude.

Finding your ideal college should not be about working harder and adding more to-dos to your already overloaded schedule. 

It should be about working smarter and prioritizing what will make you happy so that you can create momentum toward a joy-filled future. 

Start by talking to friends and family. They know and love you; they may have great advice that centers around you - not which schools in the world are the most famous.

Be honest and clear with yourself.

Considering what you personally want in a college environment, begin searching for the schools that can provide what you are looking for. 

For more specific help, check out this article on how to start looking for colleges or reach out to one of the March Consulting college advising experts to give you personalized advice and a tailored approach to achieving your dreams.

There are about 4,500 post-secondary schools to consider in just the United States, so in order to start sorting through them, you have to know what factors matter most to you.  

How To Make A College List & Continue The College Search

Since you don’t want to send out applications to 4,500 schools (or more, if you’re looking outside the US), you need to build yourself a helpful college list spreadsheet that will eventually yield a top 8-12 schools you actually want to apply to.

The key to successfully keeping the college search moving forward is to stay organized.

When you find the answers you are looking for, carefully writing them down will keep you from having to go back and search for those answers again. 

When you connect with college reps, keeping track of what you talked about can help you follow up later. 

Now let’s look at a few questions that frequently crop up during the college search process and how they can help you.

I Don’t Know What To Major In

Don’t worry if you don’t know yet what you want to focus on or hope to accomplish in your career. 

In fact, not knowing may help you in looking at which colleges or universities would best suit you.

Some colleges will guide you along a specific, narrow path to turn you into a particular kind of professional. 

Other colleges expect students to explore and discover what they want along the way.

Additionally, most people don’t use the degree they graduate with.

What matters most is that you have a college degree at all.

According to many experts, and especially the US Department of Education, the last 20 years have seen an enormous increase in the importance of post-secondary education. 

For those entering the workforce in the next few years, lack of a college degree may be a larger barrier to entry into nearly every field than ever before - even fields unrelated to your degree.

Does It Matter If They’re A Test-Optional School?

While it may seem appealing to skip the intimidating standardized tests altogether, it may not be the best course for you in the long run.

And it definitely isn’t a good criterion for basing your school selection on.

Don’t make the mistake of limiting your school options only to “test-optional” schools without reading this article about why you might be better off taking the ACT or SAT, whether or not they are required. 

Should I Worry About Demonstrated Interest?

Demonstrated interest goes both ways: Not only is this a way for schools to determine if a student is truly interested in their institution, but it also provides key information for students to consider whether they would be happy at that school. 

In other words, take note of the schools that demonstrate an interest in the type of student you are, and which respond well to you personally when you interact with their representatives, counselors, and admissions offices

How To Narrow Down Your List Of College Options

In order to finalize a best fits list of 8 to 12 top schools for your success, it is critical that you be ruthlessly honest. 

This is the time to eliminate schools that are on your list merely to impress your relatives with how awesome you are and keep those that feel like they are the place for you. 

Remember, later on when you have successfully earned a degree and begun your career, those relatives will be plenty impressed with what you have accomplished!

Instead, check out this article on how to make your college list that has tips on how to sort and solidify your final list of top schools to apply to. 

Or read the 7 things to consider when you compare colleges.

There’s no need to feel stuck or lost. If you’re having trouble, reach out to us with your questions or what we can do to help.

This is your life. Take charge of your future.