My last blog listed the first five things to consider for finding the right college match: location, size, campus, students, and grades. Here are the next five to round out the list:
Admissions personnel in private colleges and universities often tell students not to count them out in favor of public colleges and universities because of cost. That’s because there are ways in which they discount the cost to students, which can often mean that a private education can cost the same or less than a public one.
What is need based aid?
This is otherwise known as financial aid. In order to qualify for this aid, you must file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. As indicated in the FAFSA site, how much you can receive from a college depends on a simple formula: As of the 2024-2025 aid year: Cost of Attendance – Student Aid Index – Other Financial Assistance = Financial Need.
Some colleges also ask you to file an additional form: the CSS Profile. It is used by colleges and universities to award non-federal institutional aid.
What is merit aid?
Students are awarded merit aid based on their academic and/or extracurricular accomplishments. You can receive a scholarship from a college or an organization or a business, as well.
Does it matter if you live in the state in which you go to college?
Public colleges and universities typically charge more for tuition from students who do not live in their states. Room and board fees typically are the same for all students, regardless of where their homes are. It’s a good idea to check the cost if you are applying to a college in a state other than where you live.
Some students apply to college knowing what they want to study (although they are often free to change their minds once at college). If you have no idea as to what you want to study, that’s okay, too. Colleges are happy to have you apply as an “undecided” student.
* What do you want to study? Do you want to major in one area and minor in another? Do you want to major in two areas (double major)?
* Are you considering a program where you can major in a particular area and easily continue onto graduate school?
You can find programs in a variety of areas of study in which you can obtain more than one type of degree, such as a bachelor’s degree in business followed by a master’s degree in business.
* Do you want to study off campus – in another country (study abroad) or even a domestic study away?
Washington, D.C. is popular for the latter, but there are also programs where you can spend a semester at sea, for example. As for studying internationally, there are programs all over the world.
* What is the curriculum?
Most colleges have requirements that all students must satisfy. These are referred to as core curricula or general education or distribution requirements. A few have very flexible curricula in which you don’t have to take any particular classes other than those in your major or minor. It’s a good idea to not just check out the classes in the area that you want to study but also what other classes the colleges require in order for you to graduate.
All public or private schools that receive federal funding are required by law to make their programs accessible to students with disabilities. It’s not automatic, though. You have to furnish documentation that the colleges review to determine the accommodations they want to extend to you.
* What kind of services and accommodations do you need – and/or are available on campus?
The typical support for students with learning differences and physical disabilities includes extra time on tests and quizzes, testing in an alternate location, use of a laptop, note takers, access to audiobooks, special seating in class, assistive technology, and housing.
In addition to the above, colleges often offer tutors and centers, such as writing centers, to assist all students, as well as advisors for freshmen and when you declare a major. There are also resources to support students with mental health issues, LGBTQ+ services, and career services.
What do you want to do on campus?
It’s a good idea to think about a number of areas. Are you someone who wants to get involved in Greek life and join a fraternity or sorority? Are you interested in an Army, Navy or Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) program? Does the college offer these programs?
Are you someone who wants to get involved in political or social issues – and are there outlets to do so on campus? Do you have food restrictions and can the campus accommodate those restrictions? What are the recreational sports offerings? Are there intramural sports teams and club sports teams that you want to join? Take a look at the college listings for what you can do when you aren’t in class.
Where will you live?
Most students start out as freshmen living in college dorms, but the dorms can vary. There are double rooms and triple rooms and even single rooms, as well as suite-style rooms. As the years go by, colleges often offer apartment-style living for students.
There is a reason why this is the last on the list. That’s because so many colleges have now gone “Test Optional,” which means that you don’t have to report your SAT or ACT scores to colleges – and you will still be considered. Some schools are even Test Blind” or “Test Free.” Those schools will not consider standardized test scores, even if you furnish them.
* Where do your scores fall within a particular college’s admitted student scores?
Many colleges publish the middle 50% of scores of students they accept; some give averages; and others indicate mean scores. You may ultimately report your scores to some schools and not to others, depending on where your scores fall within a college’s range of scores. Many colleges allow self-reported scores, which means you can just indicate your scores on your application. Some want you to send official scores through the testing agencies. It’s a good idea to check each school’s policy.