A Quick Guide to Finding a Dream College

Student, St. Mary's College of California

Jan   2016



When searching for colleges, it’s easy to get swept up by a school’s reputation or beauty of the campus. But it’s super important to really think about what you want for yourself in your dream college and what can realistically be attained. I believe the most important things that go into finding a dream school are smaller and more in tune with your wants, needs, and goals.

When I went through my college search, the things that were most important to me were as follows:

Campus location

It’s really important to go to college in a place that makes you happy and successful. Take your personal preferences for your environment into account. I am a city person, but I like the idea of being far enough away to be able to relax and be out of the rush that city life brings. So I compromised by choosing a college only 23 miles away from the nearest metropolitan city. In addition to this, you also need to consider your career goals. If you want to major in environmental science, you should go to college in a place with lots of greenery and wildlife to explore. If you want to major in political science, Washington, D.C., may be a good place to start. Of course you can study anywhere and still be successful, but the more closely your environment matches you and your goals, the more successful you will be.

Small classes and individual attention from professors

“But it’s college!” you say, brushing this off. “The professors are busy people—they don’t have time to listen to students. That’s what TAs are for.” Well, I’m calling this one false. As a student, I feel like I deserve attention and help from my professors, and I would not get that individual attention from those who teach hundreds of students in one class. I want to be talked to, not talked at.

Campus facilities (gym, cafeteria, bookstore, etc.)

Often these are just side notes in a quest for a perfect college, but these little comforts can really help when trying to start a new life in a completely new place. If you’re going to be eating three square meals a day, the cafeteria had better be a comfortable place for you. I like to exercise, and so it was important to me to be able to continue that routine in a college with a suitable rec center. And this sounds silly, but during my college search I loved it when schools had big bookstores. I thought it showed school spirit and a sense of home.

Nice dorms and guaranteed freshman housing

Everyone wants to live in a beautiful place—or at least a clean and livable place. As a freshman, you shouldn’t have to be worried about where you’re living; you should be focused on your classes and meeting new people. And what better place to meet people than your dorm? What I like about guaranteed freshman housing is that most colleges seem to house freshmen together, which means you meet a lot more people in your exact same situation. Freshman housing is a good place to create a community.

A wide variety of majors and minors

As a college freshman, you could be anywhere when it comes to majors—you completely know what you want to do, you’re mulling over ideas, or you have no idea. Even if you’re all set on a major, minor, and career, it’s still a good idea to go to a school with a wide variety of majors, just in case you change your mind. Who knows? Maybe your first semester of college could completely change you from a political science major to an art history major. Stranger things have happened. Be prepared.

Also, make sure your dream college has your major if you already have one picked out. People have applied to and attended their dream colleges, only to discover that the school didn’t offer their major! Don’t let that happen to you!


Not all of your time is going to be spent in class or studying. The more involved in your school you are, the more people you will meet, which means the more friends you will make. Also, this is a great opportunity for you to pursue any and all interests. If you’re an athletic person, go for a school that offers intramural and/or club sports as well as NCAA sports teams. If you’re a social justice warrior, look for a school with clubs pertaining to activism. This is a chance to learn something new as well. Stepping out of your comfort zone is what college is all about! So it’s also a good idea to find a school with a wide array of clubs and activities for you to participate in.

Finally, when you’re deep in the throes of your college search, don’t forget to enjoy it! This is an exciting time for you, and you will find the right school for you to attend. Just breathe. :)

Small and quaint? Big and spirited? What does your dream college look like? Let us know in the comments!

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Kerry-Anne Loughman

Kerry-Anne Loughman is a freshman at St. Mary's College of California, where she is working toward B.A. degrees in English and women and gender studies. She is excited to combine her love of writing with her experience with selecting a college to attend. She considers herself to be a feminist, and she loves traveling, Mexican food, and Taylor Swift.

You can follow Kerry-Anne on Twitter and Instagram.