The college selection process can be an exciting yet stressful time in a student’s life. If you have a career goal or college major in mind, finding colleges that offer those majors or are recognized leaders in the field may will obviously go to the top of your list. There are other factors to consider of course and this article will help you organize your search.

One of the real possibilities to keep in mind is the fact that many students change their major once they begin their studies. You want to be sure the school you select has other options available or you may need to transfer schools and possibly lose time, money, and College Selection Process.

It is also very important to determine what is financially feasible for you and your family. It makes little sense to fall in love with a school only to find out you can only attend by taking out massive student loans. Some schools offer generous financial aid and work study programs and those are certainly worth investigating as long as you understand what they entail and are willing to forgo that school if the finances do not work as planned.

Now determine what is important to you. There are many factors to consider. A few obvious ones are listed below but be sure and add to the list any criteria that you consider important. Factors to consider:


  • Private / Public College
  • Large School / Small school
  • Class size
  • Diversity of programs
  • School Reputation
  • Available living arrangements – dorms, apartments, live at home
  • Location – Rural or Urban/ close to home or far away
  • Graduation Rate and Retention Rate – do most students remain and graduate on time?
  • Placement rate – what percentage land jobs or continue on to grad school?
  • Sports and Social life including clubs and organizations that interest you


Once you have selected some criteria that are important to you, it’s time to narrow your search to a reasonable number of schools – anywhere from 5 to 20 is manageable. There are excellent college guidebooks available and here’s a tip to save you some money. The guides don’t change much from year to year, except for the tuition amounts, so you may be able to find last years edition at a bargain price. Tuition information is readily available on the schools website so don’t let that deter you. When using these guides, pay close attention to the admission information, including the percentage of students admitted, average SAT/ACT scores, and average class rank This will help you determine your chances of acceptance.

Some students like to divide their choices into 3 categories – Reach, good match and safety. This is not a requirement of course, but if you’re interested it can also help in the selection process. A Reach school is one that is either difficult to get into or in general selects students with test or grade scores above your average. You would like to go if accepted, but you won’t be disappointed if you don’t get in. A good match is simply that – the students they generally accept are like you scholastically and the percentage of acceptance leads you to believe you have a good chance of being admitted. Finally, a Safety is a school that has a high percentage of acceptances and in general accepts students with scores and grades below yours. You should always have 1 or 2 safety schools on the list.

After compiling your list, visit the websites of the schools. Many offer virtual tours, which can help, especially if they are a considerable distance away. Spend some time on each site looking for positives and negatives in order to refine your list further.

Plan on visiting as many schools as possible, touring the campus, meeting with students, dining in the cafeteria and hopefully sitting in on a class. All of these can help you determine if the school feels right to you. Spend most of your time visiting “good match” schools, since one of them will most likely be your choice. It’s fun to tour the “Ivies” and the other super selective schools but they can make otherwise excellent schools seem to pale in comparison.


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