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5 Important College Search Criteria to Find the Best Schools for You

There are many factors to consider during your college search, but these are the most important to keep in mind as you look for the best school(s) for you.

Throughout the college application process, you’ll hear a lot about finding the right college “fit” for you, but what does that really mean? There are many factors to consider as you’re searching for a great place to pursue higher education, and everyone will have different criteria that may seem more important than others. But here are five of the most common considerations to help you determine if a college or university aligns with your preferences and is a good option that fits you and your goals.

1. Size

When researching colleges and universities, it’s important to consider their size and student population. Some people feel more comfortable at larger schools with tens of thousands of students, while others might get overwhelmed. A big university might also lack the staff to provide you with regular one-on-one support, forcing students to take the initiative to engage with professors or learn on their own. Similarly, some students enjoy the relative coziness of a smaller liberal arts college or university. A more personal connection with professors may make getting help easier, but some students might feel stifled in such a close-knit learning environment.

By the same token, different sized universities may receive different amounts of funding and use their resources differently. Larger universities are often more well known with bigger alumni networks and thus receive more funding. With more students to support and larger campuses to furnish, however, you may receive a smaller amount of financial aid or scholarships at these schools. Small colleges often receive smaller donations than big, well-known universities; with fewer students to support, however, financial aid awards and scholarships could be larger. School size often goes hand-in-hand with learning style and financial ability, making it all the more important to consider in your final college decision.

Related: Considering College Size: Which Is Right for You?

2. Location

Another key aspect of the college experience is the school’s location. Do you thrive in the hustle and bustle of a city, the relative calm of a suburb, or the open space of a rural area? Is the rush of the East Coast calling you, or is the more laid-back vibe of the West Coast your style? Do you want to stay near your family, travel across the country, or even travel abroad? A college’s location often dictates what you can do in your free time as well. If you’re someone who likes to get out of the house, for instance, you’ll probably want to attend school in a city or suburb with a vibrant nightlife or busy downtown area. If you enjoy peace, quiet, and relaxing in your room with a few friends or a good book, a calmer suburban college or rural university might suit you better. Remember, you’ll most likely be living in or around your school for four years or more, so it’s important to find a location that you’ll enjoy.

3. Special focus and major selection

Do you have a strong connection with your faith? Are you passionate about the arts or sciences? Maybe you’ve been interested in a single-gender school or exploring your heritage through a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). If any of these options pique your interest, a school with a special focus might be a great fit for you.

While the categories mentioned above may seem specific, most universities have a subject or two that they specialize in. Before applying to a university, be sure to look at their list of majors and minors to make sure they have several different academic programs that interest you. If you’re still unsure what you’d like to study in college, make a list of five or 10 subjects that interest you, pick a college or university to research, and check off that list based on majors that the school offers.

Related: How to Choose Your Major and Explore All Your Options

4. Student life

While it’s important to study during college, it’s just as important to remember that you could be spending more than four years with the students around you. With this in mind, student life at your future college or university could make or break your experience. If you have the opportunity, take time to visit a school and interact with some of the people there. This can help you learn what students do in their free time and whether those activities align with your favorite pastimes. If you end up clicking with some of the students, great! If you choose to attend that school, you can look forward to having some friends there already and knowing some of the best places to have fun around campus. While an in-person visit to a school is ideal, it can be expensive to travel to so many places before applying. If you can’t travel to the school yourself, take a virtual tour and peruse their social media to learn more about a school’s student life and traditions.

5. Career matriculation

When you’re applying to college, your future job may seem far away. But no matter how long you think you have, the time will come when you have to enter the workforce. Luckily, many colleges provide support with internships and networking opportunities that will kick-start your career. As part of your college research, look up what companies your top schools have a connection with. Most colleges are very proud of their graduates’ job placements, so this information should be readily available in information packets, on the school’s website, or on social media accounts like LinkedIn. Be sure to consider more than just the prestige of these companies too—look for colleges with connections that truly excite you and job opportunities you can see yourself enjoying five to 10 years in the future.

Related: How to Use LinkedIn Data to Build Your College List

Ultimately, deciding what college “fits” you best is a very personal decision. With these five topics in mind, you’ll be more prepared than ever to find the school of your dreams. Best of luck in all your research!

Not sure where to start your college search? Check out all our featured schools by category to start connecting with colleges and get the ball rolling! 

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About Sofia DeRose

Sofia DeRose is a member of the Class of 2024. Outside of school, she enjoys rowing, reading, and writing.


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