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Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Colleges

Congrats! All of your hard work has paid off. You have been accepted to multiple colleges!

Choosing between colleges can be hard, especially if you like them all.

How To Learn More

College websites can be a great resource. They are almost always targeted to you and will try to answer the questions students like you are curious about. This includes tuition, financial aid, virtual or on-campus visits, housing, dining, athletics, current research, majors and academic programs, and rankings.

If you know anyone that has gone to these schools, you should reach out to them. Ask them about their experiences. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • How easy was it to make friends? Was the campus inviting?

  • Did the college provide resources to find things they enjoyed? Did they have to discover it themselves?

  • Did professors go out of their way to help students? Do you feel like you made real connections with them?

  • Were the resources adequate?

  • Were there options to meet people in relevant industries?

  • Knowing what they know now, did they make the right choice about colleges? If they did, why was it the right choice for them?

Nearly all schools have Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts. Social media lets you see what campus is really like. You can also find the “Class of 2026” Instagram or Facebook pages to learn more about future classmates.

Major & Academic Coursework

Does this college have my intended major? If the answer is yes, that’s great! You will be able to take the courses you need to achieve your goals.

If the college does not have your intended major, is there a similar major? Most academic department have a section dedicated to advising. You can email an undergraduate academic advisor to find out if their department has something that could be a good fit for what you are looking for. If they do not have something that would work for you, they will likely point you in the right direction.

You could also find the course of study for the major that you ideally want. The general education requirements should be very similar. Most major coursework occurs during your 2nd or 3rd year. If the courses have similar names or class descriptions, that is promising.

Some smaller schools may not have a major on campus. With that being said, many schools have programs where they are affiliated with other colleges and universities so you are able to complete your coursework as part of undergraduate study.


If a college is a public university, the school charges tuition based upon where you live. If you have lived consecutively in the state for two years and are an American citizen or permanent resident, you will qualify for in-state tuition at a lower rate. If you live out-of-state or are an international student, your tuition fees will be higher.

Private schools are more expensive. It does not matter if you live in-state, out-of-state, or internationally. The cost is the same for everyone.


Did you receive any scholarships for grades or test scores? Are there scholarships you can apply for? Are you receiving any money to participate in a sport? There are separate posts on scholarships, so you can go review them afterwards.

Financial Aid

Do you qualify for financial aid? Colleges offer students financial packages based upon the amount of money a student and their family has.

In order for a family to qualify for financial aid at any US college or university, the family must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students and their families are able to complete the FAFSA starting in October prior to the year of eligibility. The form must be submitted federally by June 30th, but colleges and universities usually set deadlines for submission.

There are many different types of financial aid available. Grants are given based upon financial need, and they do not need to be paid back; it is essentially free money. Students can take out loans to pay for their education as well, and students need to start paying this back, with interest, after graduation. Federal work study programs allow students to work campus jobs, and payment goes towards tuition expenses.

If you are not eligible for financial aid, there are many jobs available on campus that you can use to supplement your income. You could work in a dining hall or local restaurant, dormitory, library, academic building, or recreational facility like the gym or pool. There are many options, and it is a great way to make friends as well.

There are other posts on The Pond focused specifically on financial aid. We would recommend doing some research to stay informed.

Class & School Size

The size of the campus does not matter as much as the size of your classes. When making your final choice, you should look into class sizes for both the whole school and your major. If your classes are smaller, you will get more attention.

It is fairly common, especially at large universities, to have hundreds of students in general education classes. The lecture portion of the course is in an assembly hall or theater with hundreds of students 1-3 days per week. Oftentimes, there is an additional lab or discussion section that meets 1-2 days per week. This lab or discussion is much smaller with 20-30 students, and it is led by a teaching assistant (TA). TAs may also host office hours regularly where you can seek support from them on your own time. During your 3rd and 4th year seminars that are major specific, your classes could be much smaller.

If class sizes for your area of study are not provided online, a great way to find out about class sizes is by reaching out to an undergraduate academic advisor in the department.


Do you want to be in a big city, a suburb, or a more rural area?

Some students at schools in big cities or suburbs commute to school and do not live on campus; their home is close enough that they do not need to live there. The school tends to be seen more as a place of academic learning as opposed to a place to live and learn and have a “college experience.”

Schools in more rural or remote areas tend to become the center of life in the area. The town becomes home for its students and faculty. Members of the community work in various capacities on campus, and the community is known for the college or university.

No matter what, a school should be accessible through some combination of planes, trains, and buses. Many airports have bus terminals that offer transportation to schools.

Many schools have public transportation available on campus. There is usually a campus bus system that shuttles students all over campus free of charge.

Student & Campus Life

Colleges want you to feel like you belong. They want the campus to feel like home.

Do you like going to sports games, playing sports, or working out? You should consider a campus that has active sports teams so you can attend games. You also might want to look into the intramural sports that are offered through the campus’ recreation program.

Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual? See if there are opportunities for you to grow in religion or spirituality.

Are you a musician or artist? Can you participate in extracurricular activities on campus that would allow you to pursue your passions?

Are there clubs or activities that would allow you to learn more about your major or future career?

There are clubs for a wide variety of interests, and schools may offer the opportunity to participate in Greek life. Students in Greek life are members of sororities and fraternities. Sororities and fraternities are known for being sisterhoods and brotherhoods. The members are able to live in a members-only house, and they participate in large social and philanthropic events. In order to become a member of a sorority or fraternity, potential students must go through a formal recruitment process. Not all students are accepted.


Colleges want their students to be successful. They should show that they care about your academic needs and emotional well-being.

Academic departments, majors, and libraries may have learning centers with student tutors. These should all be free of charge.

See if the school has a health clinic or hospital on campus. You need to see a doctor if you get sick or hurt.

Many colleges offer students the ability to purchase school-sponsored insurance. Depending upon the school, this may be included in your tuition. If you would like to stay on your parents’ insurance, you would need to opt out. If it is not included in your tuition, it tends to be a much more affordable option for students than purchasing it on their own or even staying on their parents’ insurance.

Even if you do not need it now, you should know if the school has mental health resources available, including access to counseling. College can be overwhelming, and it is important to know if there are resources available.

The mental health clinic or resources may be a part of the college’s larger health center. It could also be a separate building and be called a wellness or student resource center. These resources are always available to all students. Your confidentiality is of the utmost importance, and no one has to know that you are seeking mental health support. It depends on the school, but you usually need to make an appointment online to see a counselor or therapist. If you are in the middle of an emergency or crisis, schools will also have emergency help hotlines that you can call.

Career Advising

Colleges will provide necessary support to help you get a job. See if the campus has a career center that offers interview and resume help. This support can be individual or in a group, but you will need to schedule an appointment. Career centers should offer career fairs on campus to network and meet potential employers. Academic departments may also have job boards either in buildings or online.

Graduation & Retention Rates

The school that you attend should have high graduation and retention rates. If it has high graduation rates, that means the school is a great academic institution. If it has high retention rates, that means that students are happy with both the academics and their overall experience at the college.

Students should plan on completing their undergraduate course of study within four years. Many colleges and universities require students to finish a bachelor’s degree within 5 years, otherwise they will not confer the degree.

If a student is taking 15-18 credit hours per semester, a four-year graduation rate is accessible. If a student has AP or IB credits, this can also potentially help them complete their course of study within four years. Sometimes students need to take courses over the summer in order to ensure that they will be done within four years, but these courses can oftentimes be done online or through a local community college.


This is probably your first time not living at home. In order to be your best self, you need to be safe.

Most colleges and universities make student safety a priority. What are the safety measures that are available on campus? Is there a campus police system? Are the dorms monitored by desk staff and security 24/7? Is transportation or a walking buddy system available at night so you are never alone?

No matter what school you attend, you need to be aware of your surroundings. It is always best to travel in groups at any time of the day. Many campuses send crime alert emails when an event occurs that requires police involvement. Be mindful of the location and the time of these incidents.

The Most Important Question:

Do you see yourself there?

Close your eyes. Do you see yourself on the campus? Do you see yourself in class, walking around, and spending time with new friends? Do you see yourself being truly happy?

The best way to learn if you see yourself on campus is by visiting. If you cannot physically get to campus, see if the campus offers a virtual tour on its website, app, or social media.

An institution’s academic rankings should not be your number one factor when choosing a school. Just because a school is number 1 for your major, that doesn’t mean it is the best fit for you. Some students thrive in a high-pressure school, but you may be better off in a less competitive, less stressful environment. If you cannot visualize yourself on a campus, you should not attend that school. You should only attend the school if you can see yourself living, learning, and being successful there.

Once you get to campus, it might take some time to get your feet under you and feel comfortable. That’s ok! College is an adjustment for all students. Be sure to give yourself some grace and seek out both academic and social-emotional support if needed.

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