Things to Look for When Choosing a College

With nearly 4,000 colleges and universities across the country, it’s a wonder that students can even decide where to attend.

When choosing what university to spend your college years and get your degree, the list of reasons can seem endless. The good news is; that there’s no right or wrong answer since this is all about personal preference. For some students, one particular thing could be the determining factor that helps them decide whether or not a specific university is right for them.

Let’s go through some of the most common factors students pay attention to when deciding which university to attend.

Most Common College Deciding Factors


For many students, location is the first and foremost factor when looking at university options. It can be as simple as how far away the campus is located from your parent’s house, or how large the surrounding cities are for jobs and housing options. For many students, the location proximity to their hometown might be make or break, depending on who you’re asking. Some would much rather attend a university farther away from home and pave their own way, whereas you might look at state schools to stay close to your family. Something that usually isn’t considered is that location can quite literally determine how much independence you get from your college experience.

Students should also consider where on the map the school is located. If you’re from a large city and want to go to a school in a small, rural area, you may be disappointed by the lack of amenities. Small towns are great for many things, but shopping malls and large businesses are often nowhere near them. However, this can depend on your chosen field, and certain areas are better for specific majors than others. It deserves your attention because it can have a massive effect on your college experience.


Along with the independence of being away from home comes being financially responsible and managing your own money. Typically, the cheapest tuition option is going to school “in-state,” where your parents live and pay taxes. Often, students stay in or near their hometown to save money on living expenses, which can be pretty costly depending on where you choose to go to school and if you live on or off-campus. If finances are a significant concern, but your heart is set on going out of state, you might want to survey which in-state schools are available. It may come down to one or the other, but finances during school and after should be considered when you’re evaluating your options. Of course, there are ways to offset the expenses of college through grants, scholarships, and loans, but some of those options can have implications that don’t affect you until after you graduate, which often means that students don’t pay much mind when they are deciding, and get overwhelmed when graduation approches.

I chose Arizona State University because I was interested in going out of state, but at a good price. I wanted to make sure the tuition was affordable because some out of state schools don’t offer big scholarships like ASU does . When I was comparing the tuition prices for my state school and ASU, they were about the same.

Nyeedra; Recent graduate from Arizona State University

Size and Programs Available

This may seem obvious, but not all degrees and programs are the same or offered at every school. Some people pick a school for its name or reputation but even more pay attention to the school size, which typically correlates to the academic quality and majors available. All these factors drastically change the grade of each university. For some students, a smaller liberal arts college might be what they are looking for, which in that case would narrow their search to universities available, and then the pool will get even smaller when other factors such as costs come into play. For other students, a large state university with more academic majors available and higher quality professors and curriculum is what they’re searching for. When students have a clear idea of what they want their professional career to look like, they often look for universities that offer the specific major and area of study they want to go into. If you are confident in the field you wish to enter, looking for a university that clearly offers that field would benefit you. But it’s not end game if that’s not the case. If you do end up choosing a college that doesn’t quite offer your major and you start your freshman year undecided, you may find that the campus still works for you!

I chose my university because it offered the comedic arts major, a unique program which isn’t offered by many schools. Being in the heart of Boston, the fact that it was a smaller school, and its unique study abroad options were all additional reasons why I was drawn to Emerson.

Zach Hitchens; Junior at Emerson College

Student Life

Unsurprisingly, one of the most common things students look for in a university is the campus environment. College is a time of getting involved and invest in school spirit and pride. Often, lifelong friends and mentors are made while you are in college, and you’ll hear it over and over again: Networking is key! If a vibrant student life with lots of opportunities to get involved and show your school spirit is something you are looking for in a university, understanding the campus environment is extremely important. In this case, visiting your potential options might be your best bet for understanding the atmosphere. It can sometimes be difficult to tell how spirited and prideful a school’s student body is from pictures on the university website. Seeing the school and its student population firsthand is best when determining whether a college has the environment you’re looking for. Attend a sporting event like a football or basketball game to get a feel for the student atmosphere, or opt for an on-campus orientation.

Post Graduation Opportunities

Another factor in deciding which college to attend is the academic and professional opportunities offered at that university, and after students leave college. For many students, the options available after graduation are why they attend a specific college. For example, imagine being part of an extensive alumni network that presents tremendous opportunities post-grad. Often, the connections that result from attending a particular university make choosing it that important. There are world-renowned colleges with extensive alumni networks of highly successful people, and for some, this is reason enough to want to attend that college.

I used to believe where I went mattered the most. I had to get into the best of everything or else nothing was going to work out and that simply isn’t true. If I had any piece of advice to give, I would say that you should focus on what you want to do because doing what brings you happiness matters way more than where you do it. 

Morgan Kubasko; Sophomore at Arizona State University

Choosing where to go to school can be overwhelming and scary. It seems like this choice can make a difference in your life’s direction. Remember, your college experience is what you make it, and no matter where you end up, it will all work out!