Choosing a College Planning for College

Step 2: Deciding on College Characteristics that Fit You

Written by CB Experts

Hopefully by now you have completed a self-evaluation so that you have a better understanding of yourself and your abilities, talents, and special interests. You can then apply this knowledge in determining criteria that should be used in your college selection.


You may be thinking that you don’t need to go through selecting a college because you simply want to get admitted to the “best” college. But clearly there is NO BEST college in the general sense because what is best for one may not be the best for another. The IDEAL college for you is one that fits you and will make your four years there a happy and productive time for you.

Yes, the process of assessing each characteristic does take time, but in the end, you will know exactly why you selected the colleges on your list, and they will not be simply a random list of schools chosen without deliberate thought and serious consideration.

Let’s now take a look at some of the most important features in a college that you should consider in the process of college selection. First, read the brief description of each highlighted factor below and then think about how this feature applies to you as an individual and as a student. Then decide whether the characteristic is important to you or not. If it is important, determine how important it really is to you.

Location – Close to Home or Not?

Where your college is located is probably an easier decision for your parents to make than it is for you; most parents want you to select a college close to home! You, on the other hand, may want to spread your wings and fly away! There may be regions of the country that you would prefer. Perhaps you have always lived in Minnesota and would love to attend a school in an area with a warmer climate. But then, thoughts of possible homesickness and expense and ease of travel might come into play. It is so important to know what will really work for you; a good decision now is worth so much to avoid a transfer to another college next year!

Your first decision is to consider how important the location of the college is in your decision-making or if other factors might be more important to you, such as strength of the academic program, reputation of the college, college size, or financial considerations.

Selection Tip: College admissions committees seek geographical diversity. If you plan to apply to highly selective colleges, you should consider colleges outside your geographical region. If you live on the East Coast, apply to West Coast schools or vice versa to increase your odds of being admitted to a selective school.

With this fact in mind, though, it is one thing to being admitted; it is quite another to be happy so far away from home if you are very family-oriented or never have been that far away from home. Again the cardinal rule is: Know thyself!

Campus Setting

Are you seeking a college in a large city (urban), near a city (suburban), or in a quaint college town or rural location (small town or rural)?

Selection Tip: If you crave the hustle and bustle of thousands of people around you, art museums, professional theaters, and incredible nightlife, then a large city might be perfect for you. If, however, you would like to have access to a large city and its attractions but not live amongst them, then a suburban setting might fit you better. On the other hand, if you are more comfortable with a slower pace of living and a more personalized interaction with people in town, then you should probably be considering a small town or rural setting.

Warning! You might THINK you want a life very different from what you have experienced living in a small town for 18 years, but you may not realize how difficult it might be for you to adjust to a big city with a population of over 500,000 people. The same is true for a big city kid who is enchanted by the thought of a quiet countryside with rolling hills and acres and acres of trees. A word to the wise: Participate in a pre-college summer experience at one of the colleges you are considering to get a taste for the atmosphere and living conditions before you make a final decision!


Based on your personality and learning style, do you think it might be best for you to attend a small college (less than 2000 students on campus), medium sized (2000-5000 students,) large sized (5000-10,000), or extra large sized institution (over 10,000)?

Smaller colleges offer more opportunity to interact with your professors on a personal level, to develop friendships with a larger percentage of your class, to engage in discussion in a small class environment and to grow in confidence and self-esteem. A small liberal arts college may also be a nice fit for someone who does not yet have a specific career direction.

Larger colleges and universities have many benefits as well. Some of the most important advantages of a large school are the number of course offerings, the variety of academic majors offered, the availability of research opportunities, and the wide range of athletics and other recreational activities. In addition, the anonymity of large lecture classes feels more comfortable to students who prefer taking notes and soaking up the information.

Warning! You might possibly limit your selection options if you use size of the school too early in your deliberations. There are several very large sized schools that offer a personal touch as would a smaller college. Other students might think that a small college no larger than their high school might offer a limited college life when in fact it might be just the opposite. A word to the wise: Don’t limit yourself based on false assumptions!

Admission Selectivity

Refer back to your self-evaluation results regarding your academic achievement and standardized testing results. Think about your level of intellectual curiosity, your ability to learn independently, and your special talent areas. How do you compare to other students in your high school graduating class?

Would you be a quality applicant to a selective college or would a less selective college be more appropriate choice for you?

Warning! Do NOT choose ALL highly selective schools! It is imperative that you have a range of schools based on admission selectivity. Every student needs a safety school on their list! The difficulty lies in the fact that the safety school must be a place where you would like to attend if you are denied all your other college choices.

Academic Majors

Don’t confuse this category with careers. Right at this moment in your life, you do NOT need to know your ultimate career. In fact, narrowing your focus too early might prove to be a big mistake. During your college undergraduate years, you will have time to grow and to discover your career ambitions through the courses you will take and the experiences you will have. All you need to know right now is what you would like to study in college; this is known as your academic major. Think about the subjects you have enjoyed studying in high school and/or special academic interests that you want to pursue.

Selection Tip: You might want to scan the College Board’s “Index of Majors” for possibilities to consider.


To balance your coursework, you should also take time to engage in a few activities on campus that interest you. Consider now which activities in high school you wish to continue in college. You might also wish to try out some new activities at college.

Are you interested in participating in athletics in college? At what level of competition? Would you like to attend a college that has many nationally ranked sports teams that you can go and watch?

Or are you more interested in the performing arts on campus: theater; choral ensembles, musical groups?

How do you feel about fraternities or sororities on campus?

After you have given some thought to possible activities, list your two favorite choices and match them to colleges you want to consider.

Religious Affiliation or None?

Many colleges are affiliated with a religious denomination. Some are governed by their religious foundations and therefore have a great spiritual influence on students while others have looser ties to the religion. Do you want a college where religion is emphasized or one that has no emphasis on religion at all? Is it important to you that most students on campus share your religion?


Take time to review your responses to the questions posed to you regarding the above characteristics and factors. Summarize them and then rate their importance to you. The internet has a wealth of resources for researching different colleges and gathering the relevant information. Be sure to check out the wide range of review websites where you can read what current and former students had to say about some of the top colleges in the US.

How will you find information on colleges that match the qualities that you want in a college?  Read on and you will soon learn the many resources available to you!

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.