College lists and rankings can be found all across the internet, from news sources to blogs (and even on CollegeXpress.com!). College or university websites may highlight U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, and other common college rankings on their homepage, showing the best statistics to draw you to their school. While the top schools may appear #1 on the list of the “Best Colleges in the United States” and brag about their top-ranked programs, there’s a lot more to look into when deciding where to spend the next four (or more) years of your life after high school. College lists are a helpful tool to become familiar with well-known universities and colleges, but these rankings should only be the beginning of your research.
Related: Do College Rankings Matter?
It’s a great idea to search for the top schools of your intended major and interests, especially when beginning the college search process. For example, those interested in science and research may want to look for the colleges and universities with the most funded and successful research programs. Athletes may look at the top athletic programs based off sports networks’ national team rankings. Checking out college lists and rankings is helpful when you’re putting together your own top 10 list of schools, and looking through rankings online gets you familiar with the names of the top schools with your interests.
But when you have your college list narrowed down to a few, college lists shouldn’t be the deciding factor of where to go. Instead, you should to make your own pros and cons list for your top picks—factors that are important to you, not just to the #1 rankings. This is a great way to visually see what draws your interest. Once you have your list for your personal top picks, start researching what you want most in a university. Cost of tuition is often a big factor when it comes to choosing a college, as well as availability of financial aid. Location can also be important. If you hate dark and cold winters, I wouldn’t recommend any post-secondary education in Alaska. And if heat and humidity aren’t your friends, colleges in the South may not be the best decision. Does the college have clubs you enjoyed in high school? If they don’t, are you able to start your own? If your faith is important to you, are there ways to keep you rooted in your beliefs on or near campus?. Find a college where you can enjoy and be yourself while earning a valuable education.
All in all, college lists should be used as a starting point rather than a decision-maker in the college search. Use these lists and rankings to find colleges to compare to one another. Which has your intended major? How about extracurricular activities you want to pursue? Which college from the rankings has the best cafeteria food or the best opportunities to volunteer within the local community? How difficult is it to get accepted into one college compared the next? These are the questions you need to answer, and searching through college lists is a great way to find potential contenders to fit your needs.
What factors are most important to you in a college or university? Let us know in the comments!