Find the Right School

How to Evaluate Colleges

Between all the unsolicited mail you're getting from NoIdea U., college fairs, and everyone you know offering their opinions, how do you determine which school is best for you? Here are a few guidelines to help you avoid common pitfalls and ultimately make the right decision for you.

Research Your "Must-Have" Colleges
What are the most important criteria for you? For some, location is paramount. For others, size (big or small) definitely matters. Does the school have a strong athletics program? Are students very intellectual? Are you interested in a school's drama or art department? Different students have different needs and interests. Do your homework and research colleges and universities to find out which schools are a potential fit for you.

Determine Your Budget for College Tuition
At first glance, a state school may seem to cost a fraction of the price of a private college or university. However, many students at state schools don't end up graduating in four years. Check that state school's four-year graduation rate before choosing it over a private school for financial reasons alone reasons. Get tips on financing your college education.

Talk to Alumni
Contact someone from your high school who's currently attending a particular college or university. Asking just any student at a college his or her opinion of the school can be helpful, but won't offer the same insight as someone whose background is similar to yours.

Be Smart About College Rankings
While rankings can vary widely and don't necessarily give you relevant information, you should find out a school's freshman year retention rate (it should be 93% or better). This reflects how students feel about the school—if they like it enough to stay. If you're applying for financial aid, definitely check the average percentage of demonstrated need met. This number is much more telling than just finding out the dollar amount of the average aid package.

Visit Your Target Colleges
Remember, this is where you will be living for at least four years. Is the food edible? Does the school guarantee housing? How are the dorms? Are the bathrooms clean? If you don't think you'd be able to live there, you probably shouldn't try. This is why campus visits are so important.

Don't forget to ask an admissions officer, or a knowledgeable guide, about other comparable colleges. You should ask something along the lines of "What other colleges might I be interested in?" It's probably not something to bring up at an admissions interview, but on a standard campus visit, it's a good way to gauge how this college sees itself (or would like to be seen), as well as another way to expand your list of target schools.

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95% claim based on survey responses by thousands of Kaplan students and parents in each of 2012 and 2013.
‡Higher Score Guarantee: Conditions and restrictions apply. For eligibility requirements, visit