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What to consider when comparing colleges

There’s a lot to think about when you’re thinking about what colleges you want to apply to. For example, you might want to consider the following:

  • Financial aid – What’s your likely aid package going to look like? Many colleges have “net price calculators” or financial aid package estimators on their website.

  • Cost of attendance – How expensive is the college? Remember to consider whether the college will accept your CLEPs or APs as college credit, as this might end up reducing your tuition.

  • Location Do you want to be located near home? In a city, or a smaller suburb/town? How’s the weather in the area? Is it safe? Is it near interesting landmarks or places you’d want to regularly visit?

  • Transportation – How do you get to class? Can you walk or bike from your accommodation? How do you get around town or to the nearest city? If you’re planning to bring your car, is there plentiful parking?

  • Major – Does it have a major aligned with your interests? Or can you create your own major?

  • Academic programs – In general, how strong are its academics? How strong is the department related to your intended major? Is there a “core curriculum” or course requirements you’ll have to take (and if so, do you like that)?

  • Campus – What’s the campus like? Is it on its own, or integrated in a city? Do you like how it looks?

  • Housing options – Does the university provide housing? Do students tend to stay in their own shared apartments, or in dorms? Could you live at home?

  • Student culture – What’s the general vibe of the place? Is there anything the student body is known for? Is it a good party school?

  • Student body size – Is it a big, medium, or small school?

  • Student body diversity – How diverse is the school, in terms of race, socio-economic status, country or US state of origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity? Are there particular types of diversity you might care more or less about?

  • Professor interactions – What’s the average class size? Are there opportunities for smaller seminars? Do most professors have office hours? Are most classes taught by actual professors or by graduate students?

  • Extracurriculars – What student clubs are there? What are popular student extracurriculars?

  • Research opportunities – Can you work in a science or psychology lab? Can you become a Research Assistant for a professor, as an undergrad? Can you get funding for your own research?

  • Sports – Is the school highly ranked in certain sports, and are sporting events (e.g. football or basketball games) highly attended? Will you have the opportunity to play club sports?

  • Greek Life – Are fraternities and sororities a big part of campus life? Which ones are on campus?

  • Study abroad options – Do most students study abroad? What programs does the school offer, and to what destinations?

  • Health and Wellness – What’s the student health/medical center like? Does the school offer free medical help or check-ups? What about mental health? What’s the gym like? How’s the food? (Is it delicious and/or healthy?)

  • Religious affiliation – Does the school have a religious affiliation? Are there religious services available on campus (e.g. a church with a regular Sunday service)?

  • Political leaning – Does the school (either the professors or the student body) have a political leaning? If you are political, are there outlets like student clubs for you to continue your activism?

  • School history – How old is the school? What is its history and legacy?

  • Reputation / Rank – How highly ranked is the school? What is its reputation, either generally or specifically for your intended major?

  • Career center / Job help – Is there a strong career center to help you find summer internships or a job after graduation? Is there a strong alumni network or community that you can tap into?

This is the kind of information to research on individual college websites or lists of colleges. You might also want to ask about some of these elements while on your college tours.


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