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How do i find a college or university that is best for me?

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13 answers

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Charles’s Answer

Hi Ashley, this is such a good question. I'll offer 3 points to start off:

1) think about where you want to be in the country (or the world) when you're in college. Do you want to go mainly online or to a campus? What type of weather do you like?
2) go to this website to check out colleges in cities you'd like to live in: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/college-search
3) visit the websites of the colleges and look at the department pages that interest you such as communications, engineering or business

Whatever stands out to you when you're online, write it down...it helps to see yourself thriving at a place that cares about what your passions are. You can grow into an educated professional in the environment that suits you. Bonus points if you reach out to employees at the department websites to speak to a professor or academic advisor :)

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Carissa’s Answer

Hi Ashley,

It can definitely be hard to figure out what is best for you. I found this site to be useful:

It allows you to search for schools based on various criteria you think you may want like location, size, available majors, etc. Once you get a list based on your criteria, you can start doing more research on that school. It definitely helps to go on tours so that you can actually see the campus and meet some people there.

Just keep an open mind as you search.

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Dave’s Answer

We use the "5A College Search Model" to help students and families navigate the college search process.

1. Assessment

Guided self-assessment of educational, co-curricular, career, financial, and other priorities that will allow you to identifying schools where you will thrive!

Collaborative research to identify aspirational schools, and the development of a list appropriate to your college search and timeline.

Meaningful discussion and in-depth examination of schools and individual academic and co-curricular programs to find your potential best “fit” institutions.

2. Alignment

Developing and refining your current academic and co-curricular performance and future plans with the requirements of your best fit aspirational colleges. Making a four-year academic course plan that matches up with your life goals.

Building your 360º resume including service, athletics, and other interests that show you as a well-rounded contributor in your local communities.

Leveraging your community involvement and positive influence on your world in ways that show progressive leadership growth in serving others and being a positive part of your community.

3. Adjustment

Assessing your current academic performance, identifying any “gaps” where performance may limit your preferred options going forward and working to eliminate them.

Developing your athletic/co-curricular success through enhanced individual training, targeted communication with coaches, meaningful opportunities for outside competition that enhance your recruiting visibility and other steps to align your performance with your aspirational goals.

Planning college visits to assess and refine your college choices, refine academic and co-curricular plans considering this new information. Continuing adjustment of your college list based on your ongoing academic and athletic success.

4. Application

Preparing application materials for schools and financial aid resources, FAFSA/common app/etc. including identifying your advocates who can serve as references and providing them with updated resumes that highlight your achievements, making sure you clearly communicate why you are a great fit to your target colleges.

Filling out common app, completing supplemental essays, turning in all relevant materials and completing FAFSA/CSS Profile/State specific (i.e. Washboard, HESAA, etc.) applications as appropriate.

Preparing for getting the most out of admissions/alumni interviews. Tracking applications to make sure each is completed and gets the best possible consideration for both admission and financial aid. Strategizing Early Decision/Early Action as opposed to regular decision applications and prioritizing schools.

5. Attendance

Facilitating final decision making

Making post-acceptance visits

Competing in accepted student scholarship programs

Finalizing costs, awards, and payment plans with the college’s financial aid office.

Choosing a school once accepted

Paying deposits, arranging housing and planning for attendance.

Remembering that all of this opens the door, it is not an end in and of itself and dedicating yourself to thriving academically, emotionally, and socially at your chosen college!

Dave recommends the following next steps:

You can take a free self assessment and get personalized college recommendations at https://collegeathleticadvisor.com/get-started/self-assessment/
Book a free consultation to discuss your college search here https://collegeathleticadvisor.com/
Check your progress on our college search timeline https://collegeathleticadvisor.com/dualtracktimeline/

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Alex’s Answer

I would talk to friends and family and see what they liked. The next step is to set up campus visits. This will give you a real world feel for the campus and everything. Then reach out to some current students and see if they can show you good things about their schools. I would say a big school has a lot of potential, since there is something there to do for everyone.

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Jacob’s Answer

Hi, Ashley,

I think you have some very helpful answers already, but I want to give you a couple of other things to consider. When you pick your college, I think the best starting point is to determine what you ultimately want to do for your career (or maybe pick a couple of career options) and find schools that have programs that match your career aspirations. Start your search there and take time to learn as much as you can about each school. If you're unsure about what you want to do, or even if you are sure and want an interesting read, check out the career guide I linked below. I think it's extremely helpful - I wish I read it before I went to college.

I'd also recommend visiting colleges you are seriously considering and get a feel for what campus life is like. Try to talk to some students/admissions representatives too. If actual visits are not an option for you, you'll find that a lot of schools have virtual options. Many colleges offer "virtual tours" on their websites. Asking to have a phone conversation with an admissions counselor can be helpful too. If you ask, I'm sure just about every school would put you in touch with a current student in a program you think you might be interested in so you can ask some questions.

I hope this helps - best of luck!

Jacob recommends the following next steps:


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Vicki’s Answer

Great Question, Ashley -- well considered feedback from other contributors. Based on my experience, I would like to add a suggested factor to include a Personal Risk Assessment. Consider your experience with life change, need for stability/security, and desire/tolerance for risk.

I am a storyteller -- when I chose my university I had a list of factors similar to those outlined above. I wanted to attend a well established private university (Liberal & Fine Arts, Business, Medical, Engineering) with a diverse population in a "safe" metropolitan area. I looked for a school that supported spiritual exploration, personal freedom & growth without labels. I wanted to attend a university far enough from home that I could not easily retreat into the security of my high school relationships.

I found the perfect institution but the first year was very difficult. A successful (and somewhat naive) student from a small town with lifetime circle of friends & family, I am, in a single day of change, suddenly on my own. That first semester was miserable, my lowest GPA. I bargained with myself & family to make it through the first year limiting access to my comfort zone. I needed to know if I was strong enough to build relationship. Could I succeed in a barrage of new "everything"?

Today, I attribute much of my success to the lessons learned during that year of struggle -- I learned that I am capable of sharing my life with independence. I developed further as a leader. I recognized the need for developing structure, personal plans, setting benchmarks, & accomplishing my goals.

The suddenly dive into this journey is not for everyone. Evaluate the risks as well as the potential that will be presented in the new environment -- what you would need to succeed -- whether you are ready for major life changes in this transition. Best of luck on your future. I am excited for you.

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Nicolas’s Answer

I think you should think about what are the most important factors for you in picking the right school. I'll use myself as an example:

1) Family - This was huge for me. I wanted to go to a school where I could drive home and be with my family within a few hours, but at the same, far enough where I feel like I have some space from them.
2) Campus - I wanted a campus aesthetically pleasing to the eye. So I choose a school with brick buildings and an old-school feel, but with a lot of modern parts as well. Here's a good list to use for this: https://www.bestcollegereviews.org/features/most-beautiful-college-campuses/
3) Students - I wanted to go somewhere where not a lot of people from my high school would be attending. I wanted a fresh start and to leave all the high school stuff behind me.

Those are just a few to start. So I would think about what's important to you in a college/university, do some research, plan some visits to the campus (VERY IMPORTANT), and then make a decision.

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Lauren’s Answer

Hi Ashley! This is a great question. When I was deciding where to go, I really thought about what was important to me. Which schools provided the experience/environment I wanted? Did I want to be in a big city at a big school where I'd be one of thousands? Or a smaller school? Did I want to be close to home? Could I afford to live on campus? I only sort of knew what my major might be, so I also looked at schools that worked well for what I wanted to study. I picked a few places that were interesting and applied, and it came down to where offered me the most financial aid.

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Simeon’s Answer

Unless you are going into law or medicine, I would focus on affordability. Make sure to not discount community college, especially for a lot of the intro level courses. If you have a pick of places, I would make a point of visiting their campuses to see if it feels like a good fit. Plus, you often get the chance to see flyers and ads for groups, activities, and events that you don't get to see from just visiting the college's website.

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Paul’s Answer

Look at your passions, look at the options the colleges offer, and look at cost!

Cost is a huge factor in my opinion, if you are looking at two similar colleges and one is in state and one is out of state that can make a huge difference for years to come.

Also look if they offer scholarships to freshman and to 2-4th year students once they pick a major.

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Sheila’s Answer

Hi Ashley:

College Board.org is a great site to start with. The site contains all sorts of helpful information. Here's the link for your research. Best of luck to you!

Sheila recommends the following next steps:

College Board • https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search

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Doris’s Answer

Hi Ashley,
That is perhaps one of most difficult decisions to make since there are many variables to consider.

I found the following article interesting because it lists other factors to consider when choosing a college.


Or if you’re still not sure, visit one of your nearby colleges/ universities (that you’re interested in) and see if they host something called, “Shadow a Student” where you can experience an in-depth look at student life.


Best of luck to you!

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Gabriela’s Answer

Hi Ashley,

First determine what major you are interested in. Then look for schools that have a good program for it. Consider if you want to stay close to home or want to go far (this is really important). Lastly, visit the school and see if it is a good fit for you!