College Search 

You have 3,899 college options, and each of them is as unique as the students who apply there.

Many people think that top colleges like Harvard and Yale are the best possible choices for any student. The best college, however, is the one that meets your academic, social, and personal needs and interests. Not everyone is comfortable at every school.

The first step in choosing the right school is to develop a list of top colleges that is based on the most important criteria for your education.

 

Important Criteria. 

The criteria that you use to create your list of the best colleges will depend on your personality, values, academic interests, and career goals. Other important criteria include quality of academics, campus culture, cost, location, and environment.

Academics. 

Once you have an idea of your major and career path, you can use that to identify schools that have academic programs in your field. If you are interested in the arts, engineering, medicine, or a specific profession, you may want to look at schools that specialize in that field. Otherwise, choosing an academically-balanced college that offers a variety of majors and programs might be a better option. Student-to-teacher ratio, faculty expertise, and academic resources such as libraries, computer labs, and learning centers are also important aspects of college.

Campus culture. 

The culture of a campus should factor into your evaluation of top colleges. Values such as commitment to diversity, openness to religious expression, and dedication to academic excellence. Also consider the range of student organizations, athletic and recreational activities, performing arts programs, and entertainment options. The college's relationship with the larger community, availability of on- and off- campus housing, quality of food, health care services, and campus security all contribute to the quality of college life.

Cost. 

If cost is a major issue, your list may only include public colleges and universities because they are less expensive — for in-state students — than private ones. You do not have to sacrifice quality for cost because many public institutions offer excellent academic and social programs. However, don't assume that private universities are out of your price range. The financial aid options offered by private colleges can often make a private education as affordable as public colleges.

Location and campus environment. 

Consider the type of setting you prefer, whether it is rural, urban, or suburban when you make your list of top colleges. The region of the country, size of the student body, opportunities offered in the area where the college is located, and the school's proximity to your home should also be considered for location. Campus environment, including modern technology and equipment, research laboratories, recreational facilities, retail shops, and restaurants may also factor into your decision.

Make your list. 

You may already know the universities or colleges in your area, but you can find out about more schools and broaden your opportunities through online research.

College Board, Princeton Review, and California Colleges provide extensive, searchable lists of schools. You can search by location, majors, or the criteria that are most important to you. You can also visit the Web sites of the schools that look most promising.

Once you compile your list of favorites, examine their admission requirements to determine if you qualify. Then consider visiting your favorites to help you decide which is the best university for you.

Other useful resources are Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Career Launch college search and College Prowler.

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