How to Pick Colleges to Apply to?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young man in a classroom thinking.

How to Pick Colleges to Apply to?

Picking colleges to apply to can feel overwhelming. This crucial decision not only dictates the academic path you’ll embark on, but also shapes your social experiences, personal growth, and career prospects. Therefore, it is essential to evaluate various factors that go beyond a college’s reputation. Understanding these factors and reflecting on your aspirations, values, and needs can help you make an informed decision.

Group of students looking at a laptop while talking.

The process becomes less daunting if you know strictly what to look for and how to evaluate the choices at your disposal. From academic programs, faculty credentials, campus culture, and financial aid opportunities, to the location of the college, each factor can have a profound impact on your college experience. This guide will provide a detailed breakdown of these elements, helping you navigate to the college that suits you best.

Don’t Let the Prospect of Applying to Schools Intimidate You

Certain schools, because of their stellar reputations, can intimidate many prospective applicants. A widespread misconception exists: to get into such schools, you must have had extraordinary experiences in high school. This leads many to struggle with choosing colleges to apply to. They become self-critical, thinking they haven’t accomplished anything particularly noteworthy.

However, it’s essential to remember that applicants are still young. Don’t discourage yourself from applying or doubt your abilities. Sometimes, strong academic credentials or a well-presented application are all that’s needed.

Consider Applying to Several Safety Schools

Even if you’re 100 percent certain you’ll be accepted by your top-choice school, apply to a few other institutions as a safety measure. This strategy is for your benefit. However, don’t just apply to other schools for the sake of having backup options.

Female student writing while looking at his laptop.

Look for institutions where you would genuinely enjoy studying, even if they might not be as prestigious. Remember, a safety school should be somewhere you’re confident about gaining admission and where you’d be happy attending.

Don’t Base Your Decision Solely on Tuition Costs

The cost shouldn’t deter you from applying to a specific university, especially since you have so many options. If a school’s tuition seems steep, explore financial aid opportunities, scholarships, or student loans. A university with a high sticker price might offer substantial financial aid. Some institutions have excellent financial support systems, and if you qualify, attending there might end up being more affordable than your local state school.

Consider the Location of Your Potential School

Location is a crucial factor when choosing colleges. It’s not just about the geographical distance; consider the surroundings too. Ask yourself: Would a rural environment feel too isolated, or would an urban setting feel too overwhelming?

Asian students talking about college while sitting on the stairs.

Consider whether you prefer a city or a small town, or whether proximity to mountains or the sea is important. Other practicalities to think about include the cost of traveling home for breaks and whether you’ll have a car while at school.

How Do You Pick a College If You’re Undecided About Your Major?

However, the path other students should take is often ambiguous. If this describes you, don’t stress. Millions enroll in college each year without a chosen major, and many graduates remain uncertain about their future careers.

Your college search might be less academic-focused but can still consider other critical factors influencing your decision.

Seek Institutions Offering a Diverse Range of Courses

If you’re unsure about your career direction, apply to schools offering diverse programs. Many institutions offer a wide range of liberal arts programs. This broad education can serve you well, as fundamental skills like math and English are daily essentials.

Four students from different races talking and looking at a tablet held by a male student.

Consider institutions offering various general courses that interest you, alongside liberal arts. For instance, if you’re leaning towards science but are unsure of a specific branch, look for institutions with options like engineering, physical therapy, pharmacy, or pre-medical studies.

Consider Schools with Later Major Declaration Dates

Although you can’t indefinitely defer your major decision, some institutions allow students to declare their majors even toward the end of their sophomore year. Such schools provide an opportunity to explore various subjects before specializing.

Georgia State University now requires students to choose a “meta-major” before selecting an exact academic focus. For example, aspiring accountants would declare a business meta-major, but if they later opt for management, their previously earned credits still apply. This approach has reduced the number of major changes by 32% at the university, indicating that delaying major declarations can be beneficial.

Explore Schools with Open Curricula

Open curriculum schools lack a strict core curriculum. Typically, there aren’t mandatory classes beyond those for your chosen major (though some may require a freshman seminar focused on college writing skills).

Female student typing in her laptop.

Students at these schools often have the flexibility to declare their major by the end of their second academic year. This increased freedom allows students more control over their studies, reflecting the broad skills often demanded in modern professions.

However, even at these institutions, some prerequisites impact your course choices. For instance, certain upper-level courses might need preliminary coursework completion.

Some colleges with open or semi-open curricula include:

    • Amherst College
    • Brown University
    • Hamilton College
    • Hampshire College
    • The University of Rochester (requires 3 courses in 2 fields outside of major)
    • Smith College
    • Vassar College (has a foreign language and quantitative course requirement)
    • Wake Forest University (offers a special open curriculum program for select undergraduates)
    • Wesleyan University

Consider Your Broader Obligations

Choosing a college based on potential majors is just one consideration. Ultimately, your choices outside and within college might not strictly dictate your future career. When selecting a college, consider factors like location, class sizes, extracurricular opportunities, available student services, and more.

Entering college undecided about a major is not a sign of indecision but rather an open door to exploration. It’s essential to remember that education is a journey, not just a destination. By picking a college to apply that aligns with your broader interests, values, and goals, you give yourself the space to discover and grow organically.

Whether you gravitate towards a specific major early on or take your time to find your passion, the right institution will support and guide you through this transformative phase. Embrace the uncertainty, for it is within these moments of exploration that we often find our true calling.

What are the Factors to Consider When Picking a College?

Picking a college to apply to is often regarded as one of the most significant life decisions a person can make. Indeed, your college choice can profoundly impact both your personal and professional life.

Given the importance of this decision, careful consideration is crucial to select the best institution for you. With a long list of potential colleges, it’s essential to narrow down your options by focusing on criteria significant to you. Here are five important considerations to help guide your choice:


Ensure that the college you’re considering has the necessary accreditation from a licensed organization. These organizations evaluate the institution’s curriculum to ascertain it meets fundamental academic standards. Some programs within a college might have their own specialized accreditations. A degree from an accredited college can improve your appeal to potential employers.


The college’s location is vital when assessing its suitability. While a metropolitan area might offer a vibrant lifestyle, it typically comes with a higher cost of living. Conversely, while a less developed area might offer fewer job opportunities, the cost of living could be significantly lower than in urban settings. Accessibility to the institution is another factor to bear in mind.

On-Campus Facilities and Amenities

Examine the services, amenities, and facilities the college offers. If you’re studying away from home, consider the availability of essential amenities. Some institutions also have partnerships with local recreation centers, providing students with reduced-cost access.

Student Activities

Many colleges offer extracurricular opportunities beyond academic courses, such as sports, concerts, events, and more. If these activities interest you, research what the college offers before committing.

Career Opportunities

One primary reason for attending college is to enhance future employment prospects. Investigate the internship and job opportunities provided by the institution upon program completion. Consider the college’s placement record, average salary packages, and other related metrics.

In the course of one’s education at a college or university, one will inevitably rack up a number of unanticipated costs. Student loans cover a significant portion of these costs and allow you to make an informed decision regarding your higher education without the burden of worrying about the various fee structures.

If you’re looking for guidance in picking the best colleges to apply to, we at AdmissionSight assist students and families throughout the entire college planning journey—from the search, essays, and interview prep to financial aid consultation and final school selection. With over 10 years of experience, we’ve guided students through the competitive admissions process, ensuring they choose the right college.

AdmissionSight is here to support you throughout the entire college admissions process, aiming to enhance your chances of being admitted to your dream school.


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