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Find the Right College--Without Stress

Jennifer Garrett / April 25th, 2016

Choosing a college can feel momentous, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic. Recent research jointly created by Gallup and Purdue shows that where you go to school might not be as important as what you do once you’re there.

In other words, school rank is not the only factor to consider, and, in some cases, should not be a driving factor at all.In reality, there are multiple colleges and universities that would be great fits for every student.

Here are some websites, tools and strategies that help with the decision making.

Websites help you find a fit

Whichever way you glean information from these sites, you can narrows options—there are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States—and expose yourself and your student to schools that may be unfamiliar.

Finances factor into a decision. Most schools have a net price calculator on their websites to help students determine how much a degree will cost. Be aware that they vary in quality and should be used only for a first read to gauge general affordability and not the actual price tag.

College Board provides search tools that allow you to filter searches based on personal preferences, potential majors, location, cost, and other factors to help generate colleges that would be good potential matches.

You can also register and create profiles that store personal information and helped generate more tailored search results.

CollegeXpress can help you find colleges and scholarships. The site provides lists, articles, and search capabilities for colleges, grad schools, and scholarships.

Collegedata gives detailed financial aid information, such as the percentage of need that a school meets, how much of that is in grants as opposed to loans, and whether merit-based assistance is available.

While a virtual tour can help students get a feel for the college, visit several campuses in person before making a final decision.

Campus visits are a must--eventually

Teens today can research and apply to colleges entirely online. Many colleges and universities have dedicated Facebook pages for prospective students and another for their parents. Visit CampusTours for virtual tours when teens can’t afford to travel.

Though a virtual tour can help students get a feel for a college, only use them at the beginning of your search. Visit several campuses in person before making a final decision. It's the best way to get a feel for a campus. Spend time on campus and talk to students, faculty, and admissions counselors while there.

Visit local schools even if they aren’t on the short list. For example, touring a nearby private college can help students decide if that’s the kind of atmosphere they would like even if it’s not exactly the school they want to attend.

Don't Let Major Indecision Stop You

While some students are fairly certain of what they want to study, others aren’t so sure. Don't worry about that.

An undecided major might change search criteria a bit since students will want to find a campus that has several attractive academic programs, it will not overly limit their options.


The information in this article is based on interviews with the following professionals:

  • Mitch Warren, director of the Office of Admissions at Purdue University, Purdue, Ind.
  • Christine Groves Cheney, college admissions consultant in Washington, D.C.
  • Valerie Blair, college admissions consultant, Houston, Texas
  • Becky Marchant, guidance counselor at Brea Olinda High School, Brea, Calif.

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