Choosing a college can seem like an overwhelming decision. College websites all tend to look the same, and you may be unsure of how to differentiate between two schools that all boast about their rankings, diversity and beautiful campus. What’s the best method to find a school that’s a right fit for you?

1. Learn More About Yourself

The first thing you should do in your college search is take some time to determine what it is you want out of college. Do you enjoy living in the country or the city? Do you want to be somewhere where everyone knows your name, or in a large school where you’re always meeting new people? What are your short-term and long-term goals? Knowing the answers to these questions will help steer you in the right direction.

You may not know your major yet, but you should at least have an idea of subjects you would like to study in college. This will help you find possible schools as well as eliminate those that are wrong for you. There is no point in researching engineering schools if your main interest is in art and dancing. Use a tool like Majors Matcher to help you decide!

2. Do your College Research

The more you know about yourself the easier this will be. Make it your goal to find schools that meet your criteria whether it be location, size of the school or the majors available. Also be sure that you have the grades to get in, and that you’ll be able to afford it.

Rankings, though flawed, can be a useful starting point to initially discover colleges. There are many websites and guidebooks that assemble rankings and lists of schools in specific locations, or that offer specific programs. Use a variety of resources to discover colleges. This can include sites like College Factual, or print guides like USA Today's College Guide. You should also be sure to check the website of each college you are interested in and use their price calculators to get a reasonable estimation of what you can expect to pay at that specific school. 

If you really have no idea how to start, we recommend completing the matching tools on College Factual. This will automatically prepare a list of colleges for you that meet your basic criteria.

Don’t be deterred from investigated a school that you’ve never heard of before! It could end up being a great match for you! 

When researching a college looking at outcomes-specific data will be revealing. Important metrics include graduation rates, student loan default rates, and percentage of students who were employed in their field after graduation.

3. Plan College Visits

Colleges work very hard to make the visit an emotionally appealing experience. Enjoy yourself, but try not to get too swept away in the beauty of the campus.

To get the most out of the visit, bring a list of questions with you to quiz the tour guide. See if you can stay and have a meal in the college dining room and sit in on a class. You can also take this opportunity to meet with professors and department heads if you’re able to. 

To get a preview of a school before you visit, check to see if they have a virtual tour available! 

4. Narrow Down Your List & Apply

Most experts recommend applying to about six to eight schools. Included among those should be two safety schools, where you are guaranteed to get in. You can also apply to one or two reach schools, but the majority of your schools should be your “good-fit” schools.

Your good-fit schools should also be good fits when it comes to finances. Don't just apply to a big list of colleges when you are blind about how much they will cost you. You don't want to end up disappointed when you receive financial aid offers. College Factual offers some realistic estimations of how much you can expect to pay. Every school website should also include a calculator that will help you estimate costs. There are some tricks you can use to try to get more financial aid, but the best trick is to apply to colleges where you can expect to get a good financial aid package in the first place.

The common app makes it really easy to apply to lots of colleges, but you typically have to pay a fee for each application. If you do your research well you shouldn’t need to apply to 20 colleges. The more colleges you apply to the more difficult it will make your decision when it comes time to accepting an offer.

Congrats! Now you just have to wait for your acceptance letters. Good luck!

Get help finding your best fit college and major!