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College Planning Center of RI

How to find the perfect college for you

The trick to college selection is finding the best college for you. Before you get started, you may want to take inventory of your skills, interests and values. This will help you determine where you fit and what majors you may want to pursue. Ask yourself: What am I good at? What classes do I most enjoy? How are my grades and standardized test scores? What is important to me in a career? When deciding between schools, think about the following qualities and factors. 

Career / Major

If you think that you want to be an engineer, a writer, or a fashion designer, the search process may be a little easier because you can search for schools that offer that major. If you are undecided about your future, look for schools with the most flexibility.

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Some students thrive in large, fast paced environments, while others prefer small classes and more personalized attention. The student-teacher ratio is a good indicator of class size. The total number of students can give you an idea of the size of the college.

  • Small - Less than 2,000 students 
  • Medium - More than 2,000 but less than 10,000 students 
  • Large - More than 10,000

Location

Some students feel more comfortable staying close to home while others want to experience college in a new and distant place. Think about whether you will be happier in an urban, suburban or rural location. Consider whether you would be better served, based on your major, in a city or in a rural environment.

Cost

Instead of focusing on the sticker price of the college, pay attention to the net price. You can get an idea of what a particular college will cost a family like yours by using the Net Price Calculator at each college website. By law, colleges are each required to have one on their website. The Net Price Calculator allows you to input some basic info about your family and receive an estimate of how much you may need to pay to go to that college. Sometimes, the amount of financial aid that is offered will make even the most expensive college affordable. You can also use the College Scorecard to help you assess the cost of a college. 

Just make sure you apply to at least one college that is reasonably affordable for your family.

Athletics

The opportunity for most students to participate in Division I or Division II intercollegiate athletics is relatively slim. You need to do an honest self-assessment of your athletic skills. Many college coaches will recruit athletes they believe to be the best fit for their team. If you feel strongly about your talent and you have not been contacted by a coach, reach out to them directly and provide them with an athletic resume.

Most colleges offer various intramural programs and Division III athletic programs are often less competitive than Division I and Division II sports. Check with the college admission or athletic office to get an idea of what is offered.

Selectivity

Look into the characteristics of the current student body and the school’s acceptance rate. Admission policies range from open admission, where students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, to highly selective policies where only a small percentage of students are accepted.

Diversity

Do you want to attend a school where your background is similar to that of other students or would you prefer an environment with a broader range of students across many ethnicities, religions and interests? Would you rather attend a single sex college or enroll at a co-ed university? What about a historically black college or Hispanic serving institution?

Campus Activities & Organizations

Would you like to join a club, organization, fraternity/sorority, or intramural athletics program at school? If it’s important to you for your school to have a theatre program, orchestra, art club, mock trial program or some other extracurricular activity, then research schools that offer these activities.

Academics

Most schools require students to complete a core curriculum in addition to taking classes required in their major. Find out what classes will be mandatory at institutions that interest you. Also, look into the academic reputation of the school. Is it competitive? Relaxed? Think about where you best fit in.

Ask about the school’s academic advising program. Does the school have a writing center or study center? Find out if the school has study abroad or campus exchange programs. If you know you want a school that offers these programs, then you can narrow down your search.

Classes

How accessible are the classes you need/want to take? What are the procedures for class registration? Are the classes taught by professors or graduate students? Get an idea of how many students are in a class on average. If you are able to, take a look at the school’s course catalog to see what they offer.

Housing/Dining

If you are planning on living at school, try to stay overnight in the dorms to get a better idea of student life. Find out how rooms and roommates are assigned to students. Ask about the quality of food at the dining halls and inquire about the menu options.

Other Considerations

  • Campus safety
  • Health services 
  • Career services and job placement
  • Library quality and hours

 

Next topic: Creating a College List

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