Hand holding black magnifying up to laptop keyboard of silver computer

4 Things to Look for in Your College Search

Most high school students applying to college are focused on academics. But here are four important things to research beyond the typical academic rankings.

Obviously, most high school students applying to college are focused on education. That’s why schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the other “name-brand” colleges are in such high demand. However, if you’re going to be spending the next four years somewhere, it’s probably best to do some research beyond U.S. News & World Report rankings and really get a feel for the school based on your own opinions and feelings. And while there’s a lot of factors to consider, here’s four that I've found crucial for me as I’ve been going about my own college search.

1. Academics

Like I said before, education is a key factor in your college search. It’s great to be in a competitive environment, but if you think you won’t be able to keep up, you should look for schools that won’t put you under too much pressure. On the other hand, if you’re looking to be challenged, search for schools that are known for being academically rigorous. Another important thing to consider is the field you want to go into. For example, I am looking to work in business one day. The University of Texas in Austin has a Business Honors Program comparable to an Ivy League program. With in-state tuition, it’s similar to a private school education at a much more affordable price. Research schools that have strong programs for your major. Even the top schools have some programs that are not as strong as others.

2. Atmosphere/student life

Are you looking for a party school with lots of nightlife, or do you appreciate more quiet fun? Do you like small campuses where everyone knows one another or big campuses with more diversity? Are big cities exciting to you, or do you like a more suburban feel? These questions are important to keep in mind when looking for schools. Social media and current students, and alumni are great research tools. It’s useful to hear opinions from real students who aren’t trying to sell you admission. You also don’t want enroll in a school only to find out it doesn’t have the Greek life you were looking forward to or that amazing a cappella group you were hoping for. Of course, if your school doesn’t have an organization you’re looking for, you could always start it yourself!

Related: The Do's and Don'ts of Campus Life

3. Livability

Many prospective students forget that the schools they’re applying to could be their home for the next four years. It’s important to know about a school’s housing, food, transportation, and campus safety. A friend of mine at Rice University said she loves the school, but the food isn’t so great, and everything closes early. Make sure to research dining options, as well as the quality of the dorms and off-campus housing. Housing tours can be very useful if you have the opportunity to go on some. Also, if you plan on taking your car to college, make sure there is parking available, especially for freshmen. Factoring all of these things in your decision is only doing yourself a favor because you’ll be ensuring your day-to-day life on campus is the most convenient it can be, which can lend to more easily keeping up with your studies or other responsibilities.

4. Cost

In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to worry about cost when it comes to education. Unfortunately, price is a determining factor in many students’ college searches. Most families can’t afford to pay full price for a college education. Look into the financial aid policies at the schools you’re considering applying to. Public schools tend to be cheaper, especially with in-state tuition, but private schools often have more money for scholarships. If you don’t think you will receive much need-based support, look for schools that offer merit aid. However, even if you don’t think you will get any, it is always a good idea to apply for financial aid and file the FAFSA. Also make sure to apply for outside scholarships. And if you haven’t already done so, study for the PSAT and try to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.

Related: How to Figure Out Your College Costs

While academics are important in the college search, there are many factors you should be considering beyond that to ensure your four years at college are the best they can possible be. And though the college search can sometimes seem like a nightmare, if you follow these tips, those next four years will make all this stress worth it. 

Start researching other important college factors using our College Search tool!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

campus life college academics college admission college costs college search student life

About Saima Choudhury

Saima is a Desi Muslim high school student and amateur enchilada taste-tester. She's a lover of dark chocolate, late-night comedy, and alternative rock. She's just your average lazy, procrastinating teenage girl, save for the fact that she doesn't see the big deal about Starbucks, doesn't have an Instagram (or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook), and wouldn’t be caught dead in Uggs or leggings as pants. She's also really interested in science and international relations.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress


High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

Keydi Banegas

Keydi Banegas

Scholarship for Students of Color Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress is a great application that helped me search for many different scholarships, and it narrows the scholarships depending on how you set your profile. Not only that, but it helps you choose different colleges to apply to by finding matches through the description of your profile. It was the best experience for me.

Jeannie Borin, M.Ed.

Jeannie Borin, M.Ed.

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find Allegheny with the super user-friendly search tool for both schools and scholarships. Using CollegeXpress, I was able to search for programs I was interested in studying and find colleges that offered those programs. Also, once you search for the college, CollegeXpress can get you connected!

College Matches