Find A College That Fits Your Needs

By The FoolProof Team

There are more than 9,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States and many more around the world. They come in all types and sizes, from two-year community colleges to large state universities, from small private liberal arts colleges to elite universities, from technical institutes to professional colleges. How do you find the one that's right for you?

Choosing a school just because a parent or other relative went there isn't enough, nor is going to a school because that's where everyone else is going. As a first priority, you should choose a school that meets your needs, talents, and interests.

The College Search Inventory
Answering this inventory's questions can help you determine your personal interests and whether or not each school under consideration has the key programs and qualities to meet your needs. Use it also to help identify potentially appropriate schools (the ones that match your criteria) from among the many that may send you information.

  1. What do you want to study?
    Are you more interested in developing technical or vocational skills? You don't have to know what you want to major in yet.
  2. Does the school offer a course of study in your areas of interest?
  3. What type of location is important-small town, large city? Close to home, within the state, a nearby state, or a far away state?
  4. Do you want to go to a small school, middle-sized school, large school, or a huge school?
  5. Do you want to go to a church-related school?
  6. Do you prefer a state or private school? Or have no preference?
  7. Do you want to live on campus, live off campus or commute? Does the school require non-day students to live on campus?
  8. Do you want to go to a coed or single sex school?
  9. What's the total cost of a year's enrollment-tuition, room, board, expenses? What kind of financial aid is available? What types of scholarships does the school offer—academic, athletic, or some other? Have you talked to the admission officer or financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may qualify for?
  10. Is participation in extracurricular activities important? If so, which ones? Does the school offer these?
  11. Are you interested in a co-op program that alternates work with school? Does the school offer programs in your areas of interest?
  12. Are you interested in an internship? Does the school offer internships? Some schools may require all students to complete an internship in order to graduate.
  13. What other qualities are important in a college? What other questions need answers?

Finding Schools That Meet Your Criteria
Once you have the answers to these and any other questions, it's easy to use free online search tools to find schools that match your criteria. Here are two good resources:

  • IPEDS College Opportunities On-Line provides information on over 9000 colleges and universities. Search for schools based on any combination of geographic region, state, city, distance from a zip code, type of school, programs offered, or number of students.
  • College Source Online offers thousands of College Catalogs and a search.

Next Steps
After identifying two or three potential schools, you'll want to contact the admissions office (if they haven't already called you). Almost all institutions have a toll-free number or a way to make contact via e-mail. Talk to an admissions counselor, sharing your questions and interests and, if you still like what you hear, arrange for a campus visit. Admissions specialists emphasize the importance of a campus visit to making a sound decision. During the visit you can talk to students and faculty, explore the facilities, find out more about admission criteria and financial aid, and get a better feel for the school. These steps can help you select the schools to which you wish to apply.

Additional Information
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) website has a section for students with their Steps to College Online Newsletter, listing of NACA College Fairs, a Prep for College Calendar, and Publications for Students. They have also prepared An Internet Road Map for the College-Bound Student.