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Choosing a College


City or country? Warm or cold climate? Again, you're selecting not only a school but also a place to live.

Large or Small?

Big schools have more diverse courses, students, and activities. Although they're often bureaucratic, life is not as overwhelming as you might think, since most big schools are divided into smaller colleges. If you're going to have to work your way through school, a big city will offer more employment opportunities than a small town will. It will also be easier to find jobs that won't bring you into constant contact with your schoolmates, if that would bother you.

Small schools have smaller classes (fewer large lectures) taught by real professors (and not grad students, as you often find at large schools). You'll meet most of the people in your class, and much of the administration. If you're a good athlete, but not a potential pro, you'll get the chance to play intercollegiate sports at a smaller school.

SAT Averages

One of the first things students generally do is look up colleges in a college guide and eliminate schools whose average SAT or ACT score is higher than their own. An average is not a cutoff. If a college's average verbal SAT is 550, that means that approximately half of its students scored below 550. And many colleges make their average look better by excluding certain groups (like athletes) who generally score lower.

Don't exclude schools with combined SAT scores 150 points under or over yours. And if you're an under-represented minority or a great athlete, understand that schools will look beyond test scores.

Student/Faculty Ratio and Average Class Size

These stats are less important. For most people, course quality is more important than class size. What matters is how students at a school like their teachers and their classes.


A pretty useful statistic. It shows what percent of freshmen come back the next year. Although there are a lot of reasons people leave a school, the better schools have high retention.

What Your Parents Think

You're probably going to need your parents' help in financing your education. Don't alienate them by telling them that you don't care what they think. Involve them in the process, and talk about things like finances and the distance to the school.

This will be your college. Don't let your parents' wishes prevent you from applying to schools you want to go to. At the same time, don't feel you have apply to a college just because your mother wants you to go there. If you're determined to do battle, make sure you're fighting over a school that genuinely means something to you.

What Your Guidance Counselor Thinks

Most counselors are knowledgeable and care. Listen to what they have to say. On the other hand, many counselors have hundreds of students to advise on personal, career, and academic concerns, not to mention college planning. Moreover, even the best counselor cannot be expected to know about all of the programs and departments at all the colleges around the country.

If you are applying to a college or program outside your counselor's experience, you'll have to do some research on your own. Certainly, you should walk into your counselor's office having done some thinking about your needs and strengths.


During Summers and other breaks, you should try to take trips with your parents to visit potential schools. Tour the campus, the dormitories, and eat the food. Try to visit all the places you would spend a lot of your time if you attended that college.


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