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Selecting a College: A Checklist Approach

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Finding, selecting and applying for the right college or university is an important and sometimes tough assignment that many high school students and their parents have to face. It involves letter writing, telephoning, research, weighing alternatives, and plain hard thinking (COLLEGE-BOUND DIGEST, 1983). But with planning and a step-by-step approach, chances of making a good decision are high. This digest provides a checklist for selecting a college, including the following: student objectives and college characteristics, selection by computers and guidebooks, gathering information, applying for admission, responding to admission offers, and a list of resource documents.

Starting With a List of Objectives

Selecting a college has lasting effects: what students become four years later is influenced by which college they choose, and how they go about getting into it once they have selected it (THE INSIDER'S GUIDE, 1981). No two colleges are exactly alike, and some are very different. There are more than 3,000 colleges, universities, technical institutes, junior colleges, seminaries, and other institutions of higher education in the United States (THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK, 1984).

A good beginning in selecting a college is to make a list of objectives, both educational and personal. High school courses need to be planned early with college entrance requirements in mind. The purpose is not to make decisions about a course of study that may turn out to be premature, but to keep the options open until such decisions can be made. The areas of educational and personal interest that students most frequently cite as important in selecting a college include the following:

- Location (state, city, region) - Type of institution (two-year community college, four-year university, etc.) - Enrollment by sex - Religious affiliation, if any - Enrollment size - Academic calendar Campus environment - Majors or course offerings - Housing (on-campus, off-campus) - Cost - Financial aid - Student activities - Athletics - General academic reputation - Social life - Entrance requirements - Teaching reputation or ability of faculty

Obviously, not all of these items will be of high priority, but using them as a checklist helps to specify the range of choices. Although students may want to make changes or modifications in the list as they review colleges, it is important not to eliminate any of these areas until students know which are essential and which are not. Even then, it is quite possible that no college will meet all of an individual's needs.

Using Computer Programs and Guidebooks

The microcomputer is an excellent tool in the college selection process. The College Board's College Explorer, Peterson's College Selection Service for Four-Year Colleges, and Peterson's Selection Service for Two-Year Colleges are microcomputer programs that assist students in locating colleges with the features they want. A complete summary can be displayed on the screen, or a list of colleges that match the students' requirements can be printed for later reference. Many high school guidance offices and public libraries now offer these services. If the service is not available, the same information can be obtained, with a little effort, from the following commercial guidebooks:

- LOVEJOY'S COLLEGE GUIDE - THE COLLEGE HANDBOOK - PETERSON'S ANNUAL GUIDE - ONE HUNDRED TOP COLLEGES: HOW TO CHOOSE & GET IN - BARRON'S PROFILES OF AMERICAN COLLEGES - BARRON'S GUIDE TO THE BEST, MOST POPULAR, & MOST EXCITING COLLEGES - AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES - THE COLLEGE BLUE BOOK

College counselors recommend these standard guides, which are updated annually. They differ in style and content, and some go beyond facts and statistics to provide "inside" information gathered from students and alumni.

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