College Planning - Choosing a College / University

In deciding which college is right for you, you first must determine what you are looking for in a college. Each person has personal preferences and issues of special concern, but we suggest you begin to consider your choices using the criteria below.

Type of Institution

  • College or university? A university is comprised of graduate school(s), professional schools, and an undergraduate division. A college usually offers only undergraduate programs. Are you looking for a school dedicated to research or teaching?
  • Private or public school? Cost, diversity of students, range of programs, and amount of adminstrative control vary considerably.
  • Professional/specialized school? Some students choose to attend fine arts schools, conservatories, or technical institutes.
  • Single sex or co-ed college? It is a myth that single-sex colleges have no social life. Current studies show that graduates of women's colleges have greater self-esteem and often greater success in the business world than their counterparts who attend co-ed colleges.
  • Religious affiliation?


  • Consider the value of living in other parts of the country. Do not overlook the appropriate school because it is too close or too far from home.
  • Campus setting:
    • Urban: In a city, cultural attractions, internships, and work usually just blocks away
    • Rural: country or small town setting, outdoorsy schools, possibly fewer off-campus activities, but usually a stronger community feeling on campus
    • Suburban: just outside of a city, provides easy access to the city Size While the quality of an institution is not determined by its size, your enjoyment of it could be. How important to you are class size, faculty contact, and involvement in activities? Would you prefer to be a big fish in a small pond or more autonomous in a larger environment?


  • What does the college look like? What does it "feel" like? Can you see yourself there for four years? Does it provide you with room to grow?
  • What is the atmosphere on campus? Secular or Christian? Competitive or a "grind?" Cooperative? Intellectual? Preppy? Non-conformist? Artistic? Supportive? Animal House?
  • Does the school have campus ministries/Christian organizations that are active?
  • Does the school have an Honor Code? • Are there nearby churches which encourage student attendance/involvement? Is transportation provided?
  • Do  many students work on campus or in the nearby area? Are jobs available on campus for everyone or just work/study recipients?
  • Is there a "party" environment during the weekdays? How serious are students about their academic endeavors?
  • Is there activity on the weekends or is it a "suitcase campus" where everyone leaves on Friday night? Is there other activity on the weekend beyond partying and Greek activities?
  • What kind of entertainment is available on and off campus?
  • How safe is campus? What security measures are provided? Campus police/escorts to cars?


  • What are the library facilities? Hours? Used for studying or socializing? Accessibility to other collections? Research libraries by academic department?
  • What are the computer facilities? PC or Mac? Availability of labs and locations? Campus-wide network including dorm rooms? Wired or wireless?
  • What are the types and availability of residence facilities? How old and in what repair? Percentage of students living on campus? Freshman dorms? Co-ed dorms? Sorority/fraternity houses? Visiting hours?
  • What are the health facilities like? Is there a staffed infirmary on campus?
  • What are the dining facilities? Are they located in the dorms? Variety of dietary options? Flexible meal plans? Snack bars? Can you eat anywhere anytime?
  • What facilities are available for fine and performing arts? Are they available to everyone or only those enrolled in courses or majors?
  • What are athletic facilities like? Are they reserved for athletes? Pool? Fitness room? Adequate courts for racquet sports?

Chances for Admission

  • Is admission competition high, average, or low? Are students admitted to a general program? By major? Does competition differ from one program to another?
  • What is the most important criteria for admission? (academic performance, GPA, ACT or SAT scores, extra-curricular activities, essays, recommendations)
  • Are interviews required, recommended or optional? On campus or by local alums?

Academic Program

Your primary concern should be the quality of the academic program at the college. Try to evaluate the strength of departments of interest to you through the breadth and variety of courses listed in the college catalog.

  • Undergraduate research opportunities?
  • School's placement record in professional schools?
  • Degrees offered? (BS, BA, or combined degrees)
  • Core curriculum or distribution requirements?
  • Courses open to freshmen? Elective options?
  • Grading system? Honors program? AP Credit? Does the school award credit by hours or by courses?
  • Special academic programs? Study abroad? Internships? January term? Exchange programs? Consortium agreements?
  • If a university, how many colleges does the school contain? Ease of moving from one division to another? Combined degree programs or double majors?
  • What is the academic calendar? Semesters? Trimesters? Quarters?
  • What is the required academic load for "full time?" Is there a summer term?
  • What are typical class sizes? Percentage of classes that will be large lectures? Are discussion sessions available? Do professors teach all classes or are some taught by graduate assistants? Lab sizes?
  • Ease in registering for classes that you need and want? Do students pre-register? Can most students graduate in four years?
  • Academic support services available? Tutors? Do professors post office hours?
  • Honor and professional societies on campus? Phi Beta Kappa?
  • Opportunities for independent work/tutorials? Can you design your own major?

Student Body

  • Compostion of the student body? Geographic distribution? Ethnic composition? International student population? Cultural and economic diversity?
  • Ratio of males to females?
  • How many students continue to graduate school? Medical or law school?
  • How many students find employment directly out of college? Do companies recuit on campus? Can anyone interview? Is there a Career Counseling Center?


  • What is the number of full-time faculty? What is the faculty-to-student ratio?
  • Is there a formal system of student evaluation in place? Where is this information compiled and is it available for students to review?
  • How accessible are professors? Do all maintain office hours? Is this enforced?
  • Do faculty serve as academic advisors? Are professional counselors available?
  • Is there an opportunity to work with faculty mentors in undergraduate research?
  • How many professors are tenured?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What organizations exist? How active are they? Is there an introduction to various groups during orientation?
  • What types of activities are available? (intramural athletics, service organizations, student government, clubs, special interests, religious groups) Are they available to all students?
  • Is the student body considered socially/environmentally/politically conscious? To what degree?
  • Importance of Greek organizations on campus? What percentage of the student body is Greek? What is the social life for those who DO NOT join?
  • Role the arts play on campus? Perfomance opportunties for majors or non-majors in theatre, dance, or music?
  • Interaction with other colleges or universities in the area?


Cost of tuition, room, and board for one year may vary between a few thousand dollars for state residents at state universities to $40,000 for some private institutions. There is also the need for spending money. Most colleges and universities will include a cost sheet in the information they send you. Tuition, room, and board fees are published in most college guides. Though sticker shock is often experienced, you should not exclude a school simply because of its "list" price. There are many tyes of financial aid available. If you would like to be considered for merit-based scholarship money, you will need to carefully reseach such opportunities college-by-college. Some schools award money in the form of scholarships based on a special talent, such as academic merit, talent in the arts, or excellence in community service. Also, visit the numerous websites that assist families with finding possible sources of aid. Since many of these scholarship programs have strict guidelines and EARLY DEADLINES, be susre to start this process as early as possible!


Through your research, you will be able to narrow your list of schools. After visiting campuses, you will have an even clearer idea about what you do and do not like. Carefully compare the features of each school to your reaction to its campus. Ideally, you should strive for identifying 3–6 schools that are in keeping with your ideals. The final list should reflect all levels of competition, from "reasonable" to "possible" to "reach." Selecting schools from each competitive category will ensure you have more choices to make when the admissions decisions are received. Remember, you know yourself best. You know which environment best suits your needs. Believe in yourself and your ability to make the right decision. The college counselor will work with you throughout the process, supporting, encouraging, questioning, and challenging you as you investigate all of your options.