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How to Pick the Right College for You? (A List of Criteria)

When deciding which university is best for you, there are so many questions that you will need to ask yourself. The most important criteria in picking the right college for you is location, major, study body, cost, acceptance rate, rankings, and feeling at home. Below I dig deep into all these criteria to help you pick the right college or university for you.

How to pick a college


Location is crucial when picking a college that suits you well. This is because it is one of the biggest factors to farrow down your college search. For instance, if you know you will get home-sick, then picking a college that is driving distance to your home would be best. However, on the opposite side, if you are wanting to experience different cultures, weather, or experiences, moving far home home could be ideal. Therefore, to pick the best location, think about the following questions: 

  • Do you want to live close to or far from home?

  • Do you want a large city or a small town?

  • Is the weather important to you?

  • Are there activities off-campus?

  • Is there easy transportation? Can you get to the grocery store? Can you easily get home? Can you have a car on campus? Is there an airport, train station, or bus stop nearby?


Not all universities have all majors. Additionally, some colleges specialize in certain programs or are known for certain degrees. Therefore, you will want to narrow down what career path you are wanting, and see if that school can accommodate those classes, major, and minor. Also, some universities have better connections for your future career, which is important to consider. Therefore, ask yourself the following questions to see if the university matches your major and career plans.


  • Does the school have the major you want?

  • Does the school have the minor you want?

  • Does the school have connections/resources for the job you want in the future?

Student Body

Understanding the student body is crucial. What if you apply to Barnard, which is an amazing school, to then find out it is an all girls school once you get there? That would be pretty disappointing if you were hoping for a diverse student body. Additionally, let’s say you are an African American women who is wanting a school that resembles that demographic. In this case, Howard University might be a good fit for you since it is 73.3% Black or African American and 71.3% women. Not only is demographics important, but also how big or small the school and classes are is also important. Knowing about the study body before applying to a university can help you make an informed decision about the school. Therefore, consider the questions below to help pick a school that is best for you:


  • Do you want a large or small school?

  • Do you want large or small class sizes?

  • Is there a certain demographic/community that you want to be a part of? Maybe is a diverse student body important? Or certain religious affiliations? Etc.



When students look up the cost of a university, they often just notice the tuition price. However, keep in mind that there are tons of hidden costs, that you want to make sure you account for, but keep in mind that there are several ways to apply for scholarships and financial aid to afford those added expenses. It is important not to go into debt (or at least too much dept) when attending college. Therefore, if a school offered you scholarships or financial aid, highly consider that college over a school that you need to pay for. To help you understand these costs a bit more, I listed all the possible costs associated with attending college below:


  • What is the cost to attend the school (tuition)?

  • What is the cost to live at the school (room and board)?

  • What is the cost for meals at the school (meal plans or do you have a kitchen and can cook yourself)?

  • What is the cost to travel home?

  • Are there any additional fees? ie. printing, campus transportation, parking permit, etc.

  • Does the school offer financial aid/scholarship opportunities?

Extracurricular Experiences

Finding a school that fits your academic needs is first priority; however, if you are hoping to play a sport, join clubs, enroll in greek life, it is important to research the school in advance to see if the school has the sport, club, or chapter that you are interested in. Thus, ask yourself the questions below to vet if this is important to you.


  • Are sports important to you? Do they have a team? What division is the school?

  • Are there any extra-curricular clubs/experiences that are important to you? Does the school have them?

  • Do you want to be involved in Greek life? Does the school have it?

  • Do you want to study abroad? Does the school offer it?

Acceptance Rate

All of the above information is great, but now we need to understand reality: can you actually get accepted to the school that you want? In order to figure this out, you can type “[school name] acceptance rate” into google. This number will give you a general idea of how hard it is to get accepted to the university. The lower the number, the more difficult is is to get accepted. Once you do that preliminary search, you can also type into google “[school name] GPA requirement” and “[school name] SAT/ACT score requirement”. This will give you a better idea of the score ranges that the school generally accepts. If you are higher than the score, then you can be confident that you have a chance of getting accepted. If you are lower than the range, you may want to retake the SAT or ACT or see if there is any way for you to increase your GPA before applying. However, if you don’t have the option to raise your score or GPA, then you might need to find a safety school (a score with an average GPA and SAT/ACT score lower than what you have) to apply to just incase you don’t get accepted that that school that you were hoping for.


  • What is the minimum/average GPA?

  • What is the minimum/average SAT Score? Note: The wording of minimum and average are very different. Minimum means that they will not consider your application if you have less than that score; however, average means that some students apply with higher scores and some apply with lower scores. In order to ensure your chances of acceptance, you want to make sure to be above the school’s average.

  • What is the school’s overall acceptance rate?

  • Is this a safety, goal, or reach school? You should have at least 2 safety schools, 3 goal schools, and 2 reach schools. Safety schools mean that you surpass their requirements, goal schools mean you just meet their requirements and reach schools mean that you have not hit their average requirements.


A university ranking is essentially a review of the school. Just like you want to find a restaurant on Yelp with 5-start reviews, you would want to do the same for the university that you are looking to attend. Therefore, it is important to look up the rankings for the university on google. For instance, if you attend Harvard University, which is ranked #1, vs if you attend a no-name school in the middle of no where, you will be able to get more job opportunities. However, going to a school that has a low ranking isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind that you can still get a great job and have a great future from a low-ranked school.


Therefore, as we can see those rankings aren’t everything (and each website might have a different ranking system). What is most important is your own ranking system. Meaning, think about all the questions listed above and set a ranking system based on the priority of each question. For example, if having your major trumps being close to home, then it might be worth traveling far for a program that has a plethora of resources within your major. This will help you rank the schools as to which one is your favorite and which one would be the best for your future.


  • What is the ranking of the school on google?

  • What is your own ranking system and what takes priority?

Feeling at Home

Even though all of the above criteria are important, the most important question is “do you feel at home”? You will be spending 4 years (or more depending on your major and degree) at this university. Thus, if you don’t feel comfortable at the University, then it isn’t the right fit for you.


The best way to answer this question is to attend a college tour. Every college offers college tours, where you can go to their campus, eat their food, sit in on a class, and get the full college experience. Some colleges even offer overnight stays, so you can really be immersed into the culture to see if the school is a right fit for you. Not only is this a great way for you to see if you feel at home at the university, but it also shows the universities that you are serious about attending their university, which gives you an advantage when applying to their school. Therefore, make sure to ask yourself the following questions to determine if you feel at home at this university.


  • Do I feel at home and welcomed at this college?

  • Can I see myself living at this school?



All in all, picking the right college for you is a difficult decision; however, remember that if you make the wrong choice, you can always transfer to another university! Additionally, If you need help deciding which university is the best fit, feel free to meet with one of our admission counselors, who would be happy to guide you through this entire process!

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Prep For Success has a team of amazing College Admissions tutors, who have all scored in the 99th percentile. Additionally, all of them have been rigorously trained on all of our tips, tricks, and strategies to obtain acceptance to your dream school! Each tutor takes the time to understand your story to help craft the best personal statement essay and pick colleges that suit your needs and wants. Feel free to reach out to get assistance on your college application.

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