Building College List

Step by Step Guidelines to Choose Best College

Denzil Otieno

Tips & Guidelines to choose best college

In this post, you will know how to choose a college - step by step. And while there are a ton of guides out there, this one is entirely different because we will cover: 

  • Your college options
  • Qualities to look for in a college 
  • How to choose a college - step by step
  • Tools to help you assess your chances of college approval
  • And more. 

Let's dive in.

What Type of School Options Do I Have? 

Four-year colleges and universities

The first option you have is a four-year college or university. A four-year college or university offers undergraduate programs as well as a variety of other degrees in a specific discipline, such as engineering or business. 

Now, a four-year university is usually more extensive as compared to a college and will include a variety of programs, including undergraduate, degree, graduate, and professional programs. But it is important to note that both a college and a university provide bachelor's degree programs. 

Additionally, four-year colleges can be subdivided into private and public institutions. Public colleges and universities are sponsored by the government and cost less as compared to private universities or colleges. 

Private colleges or universities, on the other hand, are owned and managed by individuals or organizations and are run through donations and fees from students. They are way more expensive compared to public colleges and universities. 

Community and junior colleges 

The second option you have is a community and junior college. A community and junior college offer students a range of 2-year associate degrees. The advantage of the community and junior colleges is that they have less stringent admission requirements. 

Community and junior colleges suit those students who have no time to commit for a 4-year program, as well as those students who'd love to take a few classes before they can qualify for a better profession at the bachelor's degree level. 

When you complete your community or junior college studies, you can either choose to dive into the workforce immediately or join a four-year college to further your education. But in most cases, people who join the community and junior colleges have an aim to join four-year colleges later. 

Vocational and technical training centers

Vocational and technical training institutes are colleges that provide students with the necessary skills to handle a specific job. It is also important to note that these institutions are owned and managed privately.

A vocational or technical training program will take between five months and three years, depending on what you are studying. Some of the most popular programs you can study in a vocational or training institute include medical assistance, mechanical repair, computer tech, among others. 

Service academies and military colleges

This is a little bit more different. Service academies and military colleges give students the necessary military instructions. And because they are quite popular, getting your application accepted is hard. 

Service academies offer students a full 4-year scholarship while military colleges offer their students financial aid programs to students who qualify for them. It is also important to note that both institutions provide medical care, pay for books, and board care.  

When you graduate at a service academy, you will be required to be a commissioned officer and serve for a minimum of five years. On the other hand, graduates from a military college can choose whether or not they would want to help. 

Distance learning

Distance learning offers the flexibility you need while taking your studies. For distance learning, you will not have to be physically present. Instead, lessons and other academic activities are provided online.

You may want to opt for a distance learning program if you have other activities you run, or you have a full-time job. This will give you the flexibility you need. So you don't have to quit your responsibility to take your studies. 

Qualities to Look for in a College 


This is one of the essential factors you should consider before choosing a college. Facilities such as libraries, classrooms, dining halls, among others, should be up to date. In other words, the facilities should render a comfortable environment for learning. 


The dumbest mistake most people make is to overlook the cost. Ensure that you inquire about the average cost of tuition, accommodation, transportation (for commuters), and more. Find out about the available financial aids offered and see what you can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the total cost should translate to the school quality for a better value for money.  

Academic programs

You probably want a school that will change your life for the better. So the school in the picture should offer a variety of programs, including masters. In short, the college should guarantee a stepping-stone to a higher level. 

Most importantly, know the classes you're supposed to attend as a first-year student and all that it takes for you to graduate. While some schools offer compulsory subjects to attain a degree, others will allow students to make their choices. And because you're there precisely for academics, make sure that the school offers the required academic standards you need. 

Retention and graduation rates 

Of course, a good quality school exhibits exceptional retention and graduation rates. Make an in-depth analysis of the total number of graduates per annum to leverage on your satisfaction. Also, make some inquiries on the learning period so that you're financially prepared. 


Depending on what you want to pursue, you may want to consider the size of the school. Usually, more prominent schools have larger classes for sufficient learning experience. Meanwhile, you get to relate well with lecturers in smaller schools because they provide more individual attention. The downside is that they may offer fewer courses compared to larger schools.


The location will matter a lot to you. Some students would want to study far from home while some would love studying in their hometown. Either way, you have the right to choose what location you want. For example, if you want a nightlife, a city will suit you. Likewise, you can choose to go to a college in your rural area if that's what makes you happy. 

Room and board

There are lots of things you will consider as far as room and board are concerned. For example, you'd want to know whether the college you are joining provides housing services or not. Also, you may want to know what meal schedules are there at the campus. 

Finally, you may want to know if there is adequate parking space if you are driving. There are many more considerations you'd consider, but these are just a few. In a nutshell, have your list of priorities adequately written down. 

Extracurricular activities

Some students can't do without extracurricular activities. If you are one of those students, you'd probably want to participate in one of the extracurricular activities in your new college.

Do you love playing soccer? Or do you love music and can never go a day without playing the piano? Check out with your prospective college if they offer your preferred extracurricular activities to be sure. 


Culture is as influential as any other consideration. Colleges have different cultures, and you should check on their lifestyles. If you want a college that has a ton of cultures, then you should be sure to check with your desired college what cultures they have. If some of them won't favor you, then you better move to the next college. 

Campus environment 

The campus environment, in most cases, will determine your success. If students are facing a hostile environment from the community, then expect student brutality, killings, and so on. 

Additionally, you want an environment that is quiet and perfect for your studies. Most colleges are always busy and noisy because of the students who take part in different activities. Most probably, you will find clubs around colleges. 

How to Choose the Right College - A Step By Step Guide 

Having gone through the essentials, it's time to look at how to choose a college - step by step. And because you'll spend a good part of your life in the college you want, this choice is critical. 

The chances are that you have applied, and you have got a ton of acceptance letters. Choosing between the colleges that approves your application can be overwhelming. That is why I put together these ten ways to choose the right college step by step. 

Let's jump right in. 

1. Craft a list of your top priorities 

You need to craft a list of your top priorities. Through your list of top priorities, you can easily choose a college that will suit your needs. Now, crafting a list of top priorities doesn't have to be a nightmare. You can include cost, size of the college, programs offered at the college, culture, location, among other considerations. 

2. Filter your list of priorities 

Now that you have listed your priorities, what should you do next? Well, from the list of priorities, you should be able to filter out colleges that match your specifications. Shortlist those colleges that match your wants and get rid of those that don't match you. For example, if you were looking forward to joining a college that provides extracurricular activities, you should be able to shortlist a few. 

3. Stop procrastinating 

Every college has an application deadline, but applications should be submitted by January if you are opting for the regular admission program. You should start your application early enough - at the start of your senior year. 

Also, find a time and start doing pre visits to familiarize yourself with the colleges you'd want to join. The bottom line is to get things running as fast as possible and stop having the notion, "I'll do this in my free time."

4. Do Pre visits 

Once you have submitted your applications, you need to go back and visit your prospective colleges. This will help you familiarize yourself with the campus and the practices. During your pre visits, make sure that you have asked questions and got answers to those questions. 

Maybe you can ask about the culture, the halls of residence, the meal schedules, whether or not the school offers extracurricular activities, and much more. This will help you have a rough idea of how the college operates and whether or not you will consider it. 

5. Redefine your goals and eye the future 

It's time to redefine your goals and know what you want. Ask yourself what you want to achieve in the next four years. For example, if you're going to become a lawyer, make sure that you join a reputable college that has mentored a couple of prominent lawyers. 

Also, you may want to consider whether or not you will be joining a private or a public college. According to data from the U.S News, public universities will cost you an average of $10,116 as compared to private colleges that cost an average of $36,801. 

6. Dig deeper into the faculties you will be studying in 

The college rankings tool plays a significant role in decision making. As such, you need to do in-depth research on the courses you'd love to pursue in different departments. Make sure that the faculties are active both in academics and extracurricular activities. You can do this by reviewing the school's website and reaching out to the faculty for more details. 

7. Check out for job connection possibilities

Why would you enroll for further studies? Well, academic excellence is one of the primary reasons, but what next? You probably want to secure employment upon attaining your degree. As such, you may want to consider the career center of each college—however, Roth advises students to inquire about job opportunities during the interview before making a decision. 

Also, ensure that the available resources can cater to all your needs for a productive learning environment. Career centers are a plus in any institution because they instill positive values to students, while also enhancing internship opportunities.  

8. Compare financial aid

The chances are that you will need financial aid. So there's a need to compare different financial aid programs and critically weigh between them. And because you don't want to graduate with huge debts, make sure that you go beyond just looking at the tuition fees by also looking at additional costs that may apply. Also, some colleges give students full financial aid, which means you will not require a loan. Be sure to check out those too. 

9. Don't let rejection overcome you

Soon, you will find out whether your application was accepted or not. If your application was rejected, there's no need to let rejection overcome you. Look, some colleges are highly selective, and it's quite challenging to secure a place. 

So it's no surprise to find out that they didn't select you. According to a report, the average acceptance rate for a freshman into a four-year college stands at 66.7%. So if your application is rejected, move on and wait for other colleges you also applied to. 

Your Chances of Getting Accepted 

It's quite hard to predict your chances of getting accepted into a college. Even the most probable colleges may disappoint you, and this is why. 

Many colleges have goals they have to fulfill as an institution. So they will be quite selective when it comes to approving applications. 

For example, some colleges will consider factors such as students' background, whether in-state or out of state, your essay, recommendation letter, among other things. 

Therefore, it is essential that you have several college options, so that you don't end up stranded if one college rejects your application. 

And while it may be quite hard to predict whether a college is likely to reject or accept your application, I have put together these factors to help you know whether a college is expected to take your request or not: 

  • The acceptance rate of the college. 
  • Average GPA for students admitted the previous year. 
  • The average ACT or SAT scores for students admitted the previous year. 

Besides the above factors, other factors may affect your chances of getting accepted into your dream college. Let's take a look: 

  • Your prospective college will review your application based on how unique your essay is. For example, do you have a touching and compelling story that the school application reviewers can't help? 
  • How popular is your major? Do you take popular majors such as computer science? If yes, there are high chances that your application might be accepted. 
  • Colleges will also use extracurricular activities to determine whether or not they will accept your application. To be on the safer side, make sure that you are involved in at least one extracurricular activity. 
  • Colleges will also consider the admission policy you are using. Are you using early action, early decision, or regular decision?

In a nutshell, the best way to predict your chances of getting approved into a college is by comparing the GPA and test scores used to admit students the previous year. At least this will give you an overview of what the college wants. 

Tools to Help You Assess Your Chances 

There are tons of tools you can implement to assess your chances. Meanwhile, Mark Moody's Quick and Dirty College List Builder guide on the basics of securing opportunities in your dream college. Here's how it works:

  • Identify the color zone that slightly corresponds to your grades and GPA scores.  
  • You're likely to secure a chance in the schools that are above the color zone.  
  • Meanwhile, those below the color zone (Reach schools) are not likely to offer you with an admission. 
  • Lastly, schools with an acceptance rate below ten percent are likely to enroll anyone regardless of their test grades. Such is referred to as Wild Card schools. 

Tools to Use 

  • Cappex is a tool that will help you know your chances of getting accepted into a college. This tool will allow you to enter your GPA, test scores, as well as your preferred colleges and then match you with the available colleges. Additionally, the Cappex tool will give you a rough idea of how much students pay at the college. Take note that this is not the sticker price you probably have already seen on your prospective college website. 
Cappex Homepage

  • CollegeData is a tool that will provide you with a variety of data, including test scores, average acceptance rates, among others. Not only that, but it also includes data on financial aids offered to first-year students that help you plan for college costs. 
CollegeData Homepage

  • Naviance is not a popular tool in most institutions, and as such, you need to inquire from the school counselor on its availability. Meanwhile, it is a scattergram tool that shows the overall grades of applicants, as well as the GPA. It is worth noting that these scattergrams include a few data scores, which do not determine your acceptance to a school. The downside is that essential data such as co-curricular activities, legacy status, and the quality of college essays aren't included. This makes the tool more biased when it comes to acceptances since applicants tend to attend in significant numbers. While it can be useful, it is one of the million-dollar tools that can help you assess your acceptance.   
Naviance homepage

Over to You

This was your step by step guide on how to choose your dream college. I hope that this post was of significant help to you. 

Maybe there's something you want to add, or perhaps you have a question that you'd want to be answered. Either way, I'm here to help you out. 

Just leave a comment below, and I promise to respond to all your questions. Above all, I wish you success even as you prepare to further your studies. 



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