Factors to Consider When Navigating the College Search

The college search process can immediately feel overwhelming with close to 5,000 colleges and universities in the U.S.! Since this is your first time exploring college options, you are likely unsure of what factors you should even be considering. Spend some time thinking about what you want the most out of your college experience. The following are some of the most important factors to consider as you think about and begin your college search process.

Factors to Consider When Navigating the College Search | Image

Academic Programs of Interest

The first and most important step in the college process is deciding what academic interests you have. Most colleges offer a wide variety of options, but some colleges are known for having stronger programs in specific fields. Start by thinking about the subject areas you do well in and that you enjoy. Doing this first will help you in narrowing down and deciding on your preferred field of study. You can start with searches online, but many high schools and some city/county organizations also host college fairs where you meet with college admission reps who can share more information with you about their school. Visiting college campuses will also allow you to interact with students and professors in specific academic departments.

Understand Admissions Selectivity

Once you narrow down your academic interests, it is helpful to understand if your academic profile is a strong fit for the colleges that have the programs you are interested in. You can easily find admissions statistics from the previous class admitted classes on the admissions website of the school or in section C of the Common Data Set. Once you do that research you can begin to put your interested colleges into different categories based on selectivity. Most schools will be either a reach, target, or likely school.

Reach schools are the schools where your academic profile (grades, rigor, and testing) are below the average admitted student. The chances of being accepted to these schools are low because of your academic profile and the overall competitiveness of their applicant pools.

Target schools are ones where your academic profile matches the academic profile of the average admitted student. Students typically have about a 50/50

chance of getting admitted to these schools.

Likely schools are where your academic profile exceeds those of the average admitted student.

Overall School Environment

It is important to think about the overall school environment and what matters most to you. Ask yourself about the importance of the following to you:

  • School size
  • Percentage of students living off campus
  • Diversity of student body
  • On-campus activities available
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Distance from home
  • Opportunities to engage with your faith community
  • Preference for a campus in the city, a suburb, a college town, or a rural area
  • Study abroad opportunities
  • Internship/Career support


Cost is usually one of the biggest factors in determining where a student will end up enrolling. When researching colleges it is important to know that overall cost is more than just tuition. Most schools will have additional fees that cover the cost of books, meal plans, travel, and on-campus housing that they include in the total cost of attendance. It is important to pay attention to the net price, not just the sticker price. The net price is the actual cost of college minus any financial aid, whereas the sticker price is the total cost of attendance.

It is helpful to know only public colleges/universities charge different tuition rates for in vs. out-of-state students. The cost of tuition as an out-of-state student is often higher because the mission of most public schools is to focus on educating the students of that state. The cost of tuition at most private schools is higher as all students are paying the same tuition regardless of their home state. In addition to federal and state financial aid, many colleges also offer scholarships and grants to students who do well in academics, athletics, and the arts.

Final Thoughts

It is important for you to understand that there are a multitude of factors that make a school a “good fit”. What is a great fit for your friend, might not be a great fit for you. As you get deeper into the college search process you will find out which factors are the most important to you and which ones you are more flexible on. In conclusion, there are many moving parts to the college search and application processes, but early preparation can decrease stress and increase your chances of college success. If you would like additional help, consultants at Solomon Admissions Consulting are experts in the admissions process and can guide you through all of your questions. Contact us today!

All of our blog posts are written by Former College Admission Officers who serve as members of our admission consultant team.

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