Choosing the Right School

So you know you’re headed to college after high school. You may even know what you want to study. But with so many schools out there, how do you even begin to pick which ones might be right for you? For your final list, aim for one or two “Reach” schools (the longshots, the “dream” schools) and two or three “Maybe” schools — the schools for which you meet the typical acceptance criteria and should get accepted.

We picked the brain of Kevin Perez, a college placement consultant with Prodigy Learning, to get you started. He says that every search should start with data. Get your current GPA, SAT/ACT scores, religious affiliation (if applicable), and preferences for potential majors, areas of the country, and campus size.

Then, Kevin recommends that you take this info to a comprehensive website like usnews.com or collegedata.com. Filter your searches by state/region, school size, majors offered, application requirements, tuition, and other criteria. Collegedata.com offers a “chance of acceptance” score, based on your GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars, while usnews.com gives you a similar “best fit” score.

Use these sites to compile a “long list” of 20 to 30 schools that stand out to you. Kevin says, “Try to keep the long list balanced based on risk assessment, since you’ll eventuallynarrow down to five schools. There is no point in applying for all
‘Reach’ schools that are less likely to offer you admission.” Not getting enough results? Your searches are probably too specific, says Kevin. Modify the parameters, noting which factors are getting in the way. Is the major too specific? Do you need a higher test score? Do you need to look in different areas of the country?

Once you have your long list, the more tedious work begins. Visit the websites of each school on your list and check out their online presence; look for student testimonials, crime reports, overall costs, etc. Cross off your obvious mismatches.
Work hard to pare the list as much as possible; for Kevin, that’s
about five schools.

For your final list, aim for one or two “Reach” schools (the
longshots, the “dream” schools) and two or three “Maybe” schools — the schools for which you meet the typical acceptance criteria and should get accepted. Finally, Kevin recommends that you choose 1 “Safety” school, where you can
see yourself being, even for just a year before you transfer. Your scores should be well above what that school typically accepts, and they should have a high acceptance rate.

Congratulations on creating your “short list”! It’s time to move on to the most fun and active step — touring the campuses! Turn to page 20 to learn how to make the most of each visit.

Watch & Learn