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What To Look For When Researching Colleges

Elon University

Elon University

With students applying to more colleges than ever before, it’s critical for them to know what it is they are most interested in before they begin the arduous work of filling out applications and writing supplemental essays. Obviously, things like geographic location, campus size, cost, and chances of admission are talked about frequently. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about some points students should be paying attention to that don’t always enter the conversation right away.

Look at the numbers

While admission rates and averages for GPA and test scores can provide valuable information that should factor in deciding whether you should apply to a college, there are other numbers which are just as important, if not more important. Pay attention to a college’s retention rate, the percentage of students who are in-state versus out-of-state, the make-up and diversity of the student body, the number of males to females, and how many students live on campus. You will find out very quickly that colleges are not created equal.


I beat the drum on this issue with my students because I just don’t want to ever see any of them graduate with excessive student loan debt. Start off by finding your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) and then compare that number to how much assistance the college is likely to give you. For students who have a low EFC (will qualify for need-based aid), pay close attention to how much of your need a college meets. For students with a high EFC (will not qualify for need-based aid), pay attention to a college’s merit scholarship opportunities for high achieving students.

Explore Academic Programs
While you don’t necessarily need to know your major when you begin your college search, you should invest some time figuring out your VIPS. Knowing what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, what’s important to you and what your skills are can go a long way to helping you identify programs that will be better suited for you. So, whether you know your major or not, a few things you should focus on as you research your colleges include:

  1. Does the college have specific requirements outside the major or is there an open curriculum?
  2. If there are specific requirements, how extensive are they?
  3. Is there a first-year student program and, if so, what is it designed to help you with?
  4. If you know your major, are there core requirements you need to complete?
  5. If you don’t know you major, can you design your own?
  6. Who will be advising you? A professor from the department? A general advisor who advises all first-year students? A graduate assistant?
  7. Does the college (or the department of your major) require internships and, if so, do they help with securing internships?

All colleges have strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to you to find out how well a college fits your needs. So take the time to research schools, get to know them and determine for yourself which ones are the best ones for you.

If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

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