7 factors for choosing the best college

Choosing which college to attend can be overwhelming, but gathering key information will help you find the college that is the best fit for you.

Most research can be conducted on the college's website and by visiting the campus in person, taking a tour and speaking with the admissions staff, current students and faculty. The U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator is also a great resource, providing detailed college statistics and side-by-side comparisons.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Admissions

Find out about admissions requirements. What are the deadlines, standardized test scores and other requirements? Does the college use the Common Application or its own? What are the average test scores and grades of admitted students? What is the application fee?

If you can't afford the fee, ask the college if it can be waived.

2. Academics

Find out what programs are offered and review the printed or online course catalog. Do you know what you'd like to study? Make sure the college has that major. If not, when do you have to declare a major?

Some academic programs require you to apply for admission separately from the college admission, so be sure to find out ahead of time.

Are most courses taught by faculty or teaching assistants? What is the faculty/student ratio? The average class size? What academic assistance is available and how accessible is it?

How many students complete a Bachelor's degree in four years? If it takes longer, ask why. Also ask about career placement assistance and how many graduates successfully gain employment in their chosen fields.

Planning to study performing or studio arts? Find about studio or practice availability. Is there adequate locker space for your supplies or instruments? Are drafting or art tables provided, or will you need your own?

If piano is a requirement for music majors, are there enough keyboards for each person in the class and are they in good repair?

Explore the computers, labs and other technologies that you may use to be sure they are up-to-date. What research facilities and opportunities are provided? Visit the library to check the condition of the books and other reference materials.

3. Cost and financial aid

The cost of a four-year degree can be a surprise to families, but most students receive financial aid, reducing the overall cost of college or "cost of attendance." The college website provides this information and may offer a net price calculator to provide a better estimate based on your personal circumstances.

Find out about grants and scholarships offered by the college and if separate applications are required.

New York State students and families can find complete information about federal and state financial aid including the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and other scholarships at the Higher Education Services Corporation website.

If you qualify for Federal Work Study or plan to work on or near the campus while at college, ask the college about jobs available and how to get one.

4. Residential life

Planning to live on campus? Living at college provides the opportunity for unique experiences that remain with you forever. Find out about the student residence halls.

How many students per room? How are roommates selected? Is housing guaranteed for all four years, or will you have to make off-campus arrangements after a certain period?

No matter where you go, security is important. What campus security services and programs are provided?

The college dining experience often offers a wide range of options and cuisine. What meal plans are available? If you have specific dietary requirements, find out how they can be met.

Learn about the college health service and medical insurance requirements.

Planning to bring a car? Most campuses have limited parking, so check out restrictions and fees.

5. Student life

Your experience will be enhanced by participation in student programs and activities. What clubs, organizations and recreational opportunities are available? Ask about Greek life if you are interested in joining a fraternity or sorority. What is the surrounding community like?

6. Athletics

If you are planning to participate in varsity sports, visit the NCAA Student Portal. As you may know, there are differences in expectations and responsibilities between NCAA Division I, II, and III athletics programs. Contact the college coach to express your interest.

7. Other considerations

  • Is the college urban, suburban or rural? Which do you prefer?
  • What is the student retention rate? A higher rate marks the success of the college in admitting students who are a good fit.
  • How far is the college from home? How will travel to and from campus? Will you travel by car, bus, train or plane? How often would you like to return home? Estimate the cost and factor in travel time.

The time and expense of attending college make it very important to choose your college wisely. A little research and preparation ahead of your visit can go a long way to helping you choose the college that is the best fit.