College options


Whether it is to increase your career options, grow your income potential, learn a specific set of skills, or broadening your horizons, a college degree can make a major impact on your future. Figuring out what motivates you to go to college and where you see yourself afterward can help you narrow down what kind of school you're looking for. There are a few first steps students can take in determining which school is a good match.

common decision factors

What are your career goals?

Most students enroll in postsecondary education to prepare for a career. If a student has a career field in mind (or multiple), it's important to make sure the schools you're looking at have programs in that field. For example, not every school will have an engineering department. Some may have a pathway to teacher licensure through their graduate school, while others will require you to finish it at another institution.

How much can you afford to pay?

We want to secure as many grants and scholarships as possible for our students, but college is still expensive even with these aid packages. As you look at different schools, it's important to see how much the Cost of Attendance is and how much institutional aid the school will provide. Students can still apply to these more expensive schools and wait to see what their award letter from the school's financial aid office looks like before making a final decision. Read more about paying for college.

What kind of campus culture do you want?

"Campus feel" or "campus culture" can be very similar between different schools or vary drastically. Characteristics like student body size, location, athletic prestige, academic prestige, and faculty demographics are just some of the factors that impact the campus culture. While it may seem foreign to many students who only know their K-12 educational setting, simple questions can go a long way in narrowing down what kind of campus a student is looking for.

  • Worksheet: College Evaluation Scorecard

  • Do you want a college that has a larger or smaller student population than your high school? Do you want something new or familiar?

  • Do you want to be in a city with lots of activity outside of the college? Or do you want the college to be the hub for the town's activity?

  • Do you like being in a "school spirit" collectivist culture or a more individualized-student culture?

  • Do you want a school that has politically active students or apolitical ones?

  • Do you want a strong religious presence at your school, a soft presence, or none at all?

  • Are you going to college to develop your intellect and work skills, or to support your social and personal development?

identifying colleges

How do you find out if a school matches what you want?

There are multiple ways to find out if a school matches what you want in a college.

  1. College Admissions websites and College Fairs: These can answer many of the demographic and basic campus culture questions you may have about a school, in addition to finding out their admission requirements.

  2. Talking to Students: Talking to current and former students from that school can give you a glimpse into what the campus culture is like. Talk with multiple students, per school, because you will likely hear different experiences from different students at the same college. See if the Admission Office at the college or your ASPIRE coordinator can set you up to talk with a current student at the college.

  3. Visiting Campus: Campus visits give a nicely-packaged view of the college and can give you a sense of whether you could see yourself there. Organizing a campus visit with your classmates can save time and money. Virtual visits are often available on the college's website.

How do you even find schools to begin with?

These are some of the most common tools volunteers and students use to discover colleges (in addition to complete career assessments and organizing their accomplishments). These allow you to filter schools by location, size, degrees offered, price, and much more.

Many sites have quizzes to help students identify schools that match their interests. These are not scientifically-tested assessments, but they can be a fun launching point for figuring out what a student is looking for in school: