How To Search for Colleges

With more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States, determining which school to attend can be a daunting task. The Internet, comprehensive college guidebooks and your local library are invaluable resources that you'll be glad to have at your disposal as you check out prospective schools. Even so, you'll need some way to narrow down all of your choices. Here are several criteria to keep in mind when searching for colleges. You may not be able to satisfy all of your wishes for a school. Your goal should be to prioritize your desires and satisfy as many of them as possible.

  1. Cost. For many students, the most important feature in a prospective college or university is the cost. This includes not only tuition, but also textbooks, fees, supplies, and room and board. When searching for schools by cost, bear in mind that public, in-state institutions are likely to be much more affordable than their private, out-of-state counterparts. An excellent guide to consult when searching for colleges by cost is America's Best Value Colleges published by The Princeton Review.
  2. Ranking. There are several books and websites that rank colleges according to a number of factors, including selectivity, academic rigor, and graduation rate. Perhaps the most respected of these rankings is the list compiled by the magazine, U.S. News & World Report. This list has become so popular that U.S. News now publishes a separate guidebook in addition to the annual magazine issue. If you're interested in searching for colleges by ranking, the U.S. News compilation is definitely a useful one to consult. Remember to pay careful attention to the factors for ranking the colleges--the priorities of U.S. News or any organization may not be the same as your priorities when searching for your ideal school.
  3. Location. Some students elect to search for schools by location. This is another important consideration since you will be spending four years (or more) on the same campus. Do you want to attend school close to home, or would you rather get as far away as possible? Do you want to be surrounded by mountains, or do you prefer sandy beaches? Are you a city slicker at heart, or do you want a more rustic, laid-back setting? These are some questions to ponder as you search for colleges by location.
  4. Degree programs. While you can be relatively certain that almost any college or university you select will offer degree programs in Business or English, the same cannot be said about subjects such as Aerospace Engineering or Crop Sciences. If you plan to major in a specialized field, then it's absolutely critical to verify beforehand that your future school can accommodate you.
  5. Size. Some colleges and universities have a student body comparable to that of a high school, while others are more akin to a small city. If you seek an environment where you'll get personal attention from professors and see the same students on campus every day, then go for a small school. If you prefer lectures held in huge auditoriums and a school where you'll always be running into new people, then select a larger college.
  6. Social activities. Needless to say, you won't be studying 24/7 when you go away to college, so it would be a good idea to know what kind of social activities are available when you're not hitting the books. If you want to attend parties on Fraternity or Sorority Row, watch football games with tens of thousands of other screaming fans, participate in amateur theater productions, or play the cello in a symphony orchestra, then you should search for colleges and universities that offer these extracurricular activities.


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