How To Finalize Your College List: Part 1

Student with college listFinalizing your college list has to be one of the most difficult parts of the whole college admissions process for high school students.  It seems so tough to cut a school because you feel like it just might be “the one.”
 
There are some tips and tricks to this, though, and some myths that I can debunk, which should help you find the right school for you.
 
Schools come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them have very similar profiles, so you can be happy at many places.  Once you figure out some key basic elements that matter most to you, you can identify a set of schools that match that criteria.  Here are the main criteria students use:
 
1. School size: this is an important criteria because it determines the size of your classes and that is a major factor in the quality of your learning.  Visit a large, medium and small campus near you to see which feels best.
 
2. Location and setting: Identify which states interest you, and then think about what feels best in terms of urban, suburban or rural/small town.  I always encourage students to cast a wider net because you will often get more financial aid if you go farther from home because you will be bringing geographic diversity.
 
3. Majors available: This one is critical and you must check out the majors a college offers BEFORE you apply.  There is no reason for you to go to a school that does not offer engineering if you know you want to study it. Transferring costs time and money, and it is more difficult to be accepted as a transfer student, so try to make the right choice the first time.
 
4. Average financial aid package (merit and/or need): This is more important to consider than COST because college price tags are meaningless for private schools and sometimes even for state schools.  Colleges award merit or need-based aid to attract certain applicants, so the price tag means nothing and the average aid package awarded is very important.  Be sure the aid package does not include loans.  That is misleading.  You can use the CollegeMapper Cost Planner to estimate the aid and final cost of that school for you.
 
5. Percent of students graduating in 4, 5 or 6 years: This statistic will tell you how long it is likely to take you to graduate from the college.  Many students are not able to make it out in 4 years anymore, so use this statistic to help you calculate how much the school will really cost you.

6. Average debt upon graduation: Check to see how much debts students are graduating with, and you will be able to verify if the number matches up to the average aid package.  You don’t want to be saddled with huge debts that you can’t pay back, so this number is important.
 
7. % employed after graduation: The main reason we go to college is to be employable (although it is just super fun to study something you love) so this statistic can really help you with your college list because you want to know how valuable your degree will be.  The office of Career Services on every campus is the place that helps you find a job, so be sure to make use of it once you are there.
 
8. % of students living on campus: If you plan to love on campus, which is certainly the most fun option because you get to make so many friends and get easily involved in activities, then do check out this statistic because you don’t want to love at a school where everyone else lives at home.
 
9. % in state vs. % out of state: This number can help you with your college list because it can tell you how many students are likely to be on campus during the weekends.  If everyone lives nearby, be sure to ask how many of them stay on weekends or you could find yourself lonely.
 
10. Religious affiliation: If you are looking for a religiously affiliated school, be sure to be clear on exactly what you mean by that.  Do you want to attend a school that offers religious services, or a school where most people practice a certain faith? Some schools were founded by a religious group but are not religious in nature any longer, so be sure to ask for exactly what suits you.
 
Stay tuned for 8 more steps to take to help you finalize your college list! Another great tool to use is our College Compare, which allows you to compare all your colleges side-by-side across all the criteria found above. Yay, college!

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