Choosing the “right” college that fits the student is an important decision in the college process. Attending the “right” college makes the transition between High School and College easier and increases the likelihood that the student will graduate in four years with a degree and a job.

The first step in looking for the right college is to take an inward look at you. In order to be able to find colleges that are appropriate for you, it is critical that you examine your interests, abilities, how you learn, and what you would like to study. You need to be researching majors and careers that interest you.

Below are some of the questions you may wish to explore before you begin your college search:

1. How far from home do you want to be? It is time to deal with the reality of who you are and if you want to be closer to home or further away. A guide you may wish to use is: up to 2 hours from home; 2-4 hours from home; 4-8 hours from home; a plane trip from home. Each distance changes your contact with home and your parents' ability to visit you while you are in college. This may be especially important if you would like them to see you in an athletic event or in a stage performance. It also affects how frequently you can go home. You should also consider the ease and cost of arranging for transportation to and from home.

2. Have you identified a major, a career direction, or general area of study? If not, that is a critical question to answer. To fine-tune this process, you should take some kind of career development survey to help determine possible career directions. Many students enter college with an area of interest and change their direction while in college. Still others have not made up their mind about a career direction or a major. Colleges understand this and as a result, many colleges allow students to start college as "undecided" about a major.

3. Think in terms of urban, suburban, or rural environments. If you are in a large city, or close to a large city, the city may exert a powerful influence on you and your collegiate experience. Is this what you are looking for as part of your experience? Suburban locations may seem ideal as the balance between urban and rural but if you like to be in the woods or hills, they can still be quite a distance from you. At the same time, even in a suburban location, unless the college offers easy transportation from your campus, the city can be quite difficult to access. The rural environment is probably ideal for someone who wants to be away from external influences and may want to be close to the hills and woodlands they enjoy, but can be dreadful for someone who needs the excitement, energy, and offerings of a major city. Think about what these choices mean to you.

4. Academically, what degree of challenge is best for you? How do you respond to pressure-laden environments? Are you looking for a school where you can participate in some activities or one where most of your time would be devoted to classroom work? Are you comfortable with the idea that you may be near the middle or lower part of your college class or do you prefer being near the top of your college class? These questions relate directly to the demands and intensity of a college situation. How you respond is important to your success academically and to your emotional well being over the next several years.

5. Selectivity in the admissions process is a key consideration in formulating a final list of college applications. There are degrees of selectivity in admissions with some colleges admitting less than 10% of applicants; while on the other end of the spectrum, some colleges admit virtually all applicants. It is fine to apply to your dream school regardless of the degree of difficulty in being admitted, but be sure that you apply to some that have less rigorous admissions standards.

6. Are internships, co-op programs, study abroad, independent study, core curriculum, and required courses important to you? If any of these are in your "must have" or "avoid" lists, make them part of your college search.

7. What extra curricular activities are important to you? Sports, clubs, and activities may have been important to you in high school. Do you want to continue with those same activities or investigate some new interests? What is available on each campus community that appeals to you?

8. Cost is a concern for most families and each family must determine its own level of financial comfort. It is vital that all families discuss limits early on in the process. It is equally important to recognize that financial aid is available to families of ALL income levels if you understand the system and the right financial strategies can yield the same out-of-pocket cost, regardless of whether the college costs $20,000 a year or $50,000 a year.

At this point, you will be well on your way to developing a list of schools that makes sense for YOU. Note the emphasis on the word YOU, since this list should represent you, your interests and needs, not your friends' interests. However, your final college choice should ultimately be based on the strategic information you gather during your college visits.

Just remember, picking the wrong college, or career, can cost thousands of extra dollars and add hours, semesters, and even years to your college education. Be smart – be proactive! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Author's Bio: 

Betty Frohlking, Certified College Planning Specialist

Clear Light College Success, Inc

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