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Be Wise With Money

7 College-Fit Factors to Help You Find the Perfect Match

With thousands of 4-year and 2-year colleges to choose from, how do you find the school that’s right for you?

There’s no secret formula for choosing a college, but there are steps you can take to find a good fit. Start by making a list of priorities based on these seven college-fit factors:   

  1. Net price: Don’t let sticker shock keep you from pursuing the college of your dreams. You can use a Net Price Calculator to help you determine the true cost for a single academic year at a specific college. Typically, the price you’ll pay is much less than the sticker price shown on a college’s website. For example:

  2. Type of college: Many fields of study require a 4-year degree; others a 2-year degree. If you haven’t declared a major, consider a community college or a liberal arts school that will allow you to wait until sophomore or junior year to declare a major. If you’re not sure what type of school is best for you, check out Moving Beyond High School: Which Path is Right.
  3. Academic fit: You don’t want to struggle to keep up with your classes – but if you don’t feel challenged, it’s not a good fit either. To help you evaluate your academic fit, look at indicators like:

    • Where your SAT/ACT scores fit into the average for that school.
    • GPA of other incoming freshmen.
    • Teaching methods, such as lecture vs. discussion, to fit your preferred learning style.
    • Selectivity of admissions
  4. Programs offered: Look for schools that have more than a single program or major that interests you. That way, if you change your major as a junior or senior, you’ll have the option to simply change departments rather than schools. If you don’t have a clue what you’d like to major in, you could start by taking a personality test.

    • It’s also a good idea to review a school's job placement statistics in your field of study. This will show you the percentage of students who find jobs after graduation. (Many schools post this information under “About Us” or similar pages.)
  5. School size: Colleges come in all sizes. What’s best for you is all about personal preference. For example: 

    • Smaller colleges generally offer smaller class sizes, a closer connection to professors and a more close-knit campus community.
    • Bigger colleges generally have greater diversity and offer more academic options, student services, activities and organizations.  
  6. Location: Whatever college you choose, it may be your home away from home for the next four (or more) years. Ask yourself:

    • What part of the country do I want to live in – or avoid?
    • How far away from home do I want to be? (Think about how often you’ll travel back and forth, and the cost involved.)
    • Do I want to be in a big city, in the suburbs, or a small community?
  7. Culture: Think about your values and what’s important to you. For example, are you progressive, conservative, or somewhere in between? Does faith play a role in your decision? Do you want to stay within your comfort zone or push yourself outside of the box? 

Resources to help you choose wisely

Choosing the right college is a major life decision, so you want to choose wisely. Online resources like the College Personality Quiz can help you do some soul searching to get you started on the path toward selecting the right college for you.

Once you have your list of priorities, use the  tool to find schools that fit the experience you want based on cost, location, size, field of study, graduation rate and other must-haves. Another useful college search tool is the College Match by CollegeData. 

Investing time to do some research now can help you avoid regrets, transfers, and additional debt down the road.