How You Should Judge Colleges: What Factors Should I Consider in Evaluating Colleges?

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on May 5, 2014

There are many factors to consider when evaluating prospective colleges. It is up to you and your family to determine which criteria is most relevant for you. Some criteria are “make or break” ones, things that the colleges on your list must have in order for you to consider them; others would be desirable to have but they are not mandatory. If you can identify your “must haves” and optional factors ahead of time, making a decision as to which college to attend might be a little easier for you.

The following criteria should be taken into account when assessing possible colleges; only you know how much weight to give each one. Thinking about each factor carefully helps you shorten your list of potential colleges where you feel the most comfortable.

  • Size
  • Location
  • Public versus Private
  • Academic Programs
  • Student Diversity
  • Male/Female Ratio
  • Campus Life
  • Athletics
  • Cost
  • Admissions Standards/Selectivity
  • Facilities/Technology
  • Family Issues
  • Disability Services
  • Study Abroad Programs/Co-ops/Internships

Let’s take a look at each of these factors.


Colleges come in many sizes, typically ranging from 1,000 students (a small college) to over 30,000 students (an extra large college). There are pros and cons of attending a small versus a large college. The size of the college may affect the number and selection of courses offered, opportunities for getting to know professors and students, the diversity of the students, and the types of campus activities that are offered. Our daughter attended a medium-sized private university which she loved, but it didn’t offer as many course selections as much larger universities.

If you come from a small high school, going to a supersized university may be overwhelming for you. Conversely, if you attend a large high school, going to a small university may feel stifling. Generally speaking, a smaller college has fewer courses to offer and there may be fewer clubs and campus activities to choose from. On the other hand, a smaller college may have smaller classes, making it easier to get to know professors and students. A larger college tends to have more courses to choose from, a more diverse student body, and more athletic teams and campus activities.

If you are unsure about your college major, a larger college usually offers more majors. If you switch majors, a bigger school is more likely to offer your new major, so you wouldn’t have to transfer to another school. One of the best ways to decide what size college is best for you is to visit small, moderately sized, and large schools to get a feel for which type of school fits best.


Location refers to both how far you are from home and whether you attend college in a rural town, a suburb, or a city. Location is a factor in which your family members may have strong opinions. Many students prefer to apply to colleges within two to four hours from their home, which gives students the flexibility of coming home between vacations. Many parents usually feel most comfortable with this distance from home. There are many questions you need to ask yourself when considering location as a factor in choosing a college:

  • In what part of the country would you like to live during college?
  • Do you prefer to attend college in a city, suburb, small town, or rural area?
  • How close would you like to be to your home and your family?
  • Can you afford airfare or train fare if you attend a college far from home?
  • Can you and/or your family afford out-of-state tuition if you choose to attend college in another state?

The answers to these questions depend on how independent you are, your family situation, your finances, and your preferences for different types of climate. If one of your hobbies is skiing, then a cold climate would make sense for you. If, however you are a surfer, then a warmer climate would be best if you want to pursue your hobby. If you have a family member who is ill, you may need to be closer to home. If you want to become more independent and live away from home, then living at a college a few hours from home might be ideal.

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