Choosing a college is an important milestone for students. Learn about the six factors you must consider before committing to a school.

6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a College

A college degree can open the door to better job opportunities and even a higher salary.

According to a 2019 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of bachelor's degree-holders was about $26,000 more than that for individuals with only a high school diploma. What's more, many jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree.

These facts make choosing a college a critical step in your personal and professional growth.

In this guide, we explain how to choose a college that's right for you by looking at six key factors, including location, school size, and cost.

Ultimately, it's up to you to determine which factors are most important for your lifestyle and what you hope to get out of higher education. Once you've identified these factors, you can create a short list of schools and begin researching them.

If possible, you should also try to go on campus tours (virtual ones count!) to get a better feel for potential colleges first hand.

A  young woman in button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up smiles as she strolls a college campus.

6 Factors for Choosing the College That's Right for You

Geographic Location

Location is by far one of the most significant factors in choosing a college.

By staying close to family, you can benefit from more affordable in-state tuition and save money by living at home. You can also cut costs on travel, since car rides are usually less expensive than airfare.

Consider whether you want to live in a rural area, a sprawling metropolis, or some place in-between. Small college towns often engender a more intimate sense of community that lets you build strong relationships with peers and professors, whereas schools in large cities can grant you access to a variety of social and cultural activities, not to mention internships with major companies and nonprofits.


Academic Quality

Despite what its marketing team may want you to believe, no school can offer the best programs in all fields of study.

Before choosing a college, you can get a sense of its overall academic quality and reputation by looking at published rankings, such as those on BestColleges or in U.S. News & World Report.

Pay close attention to the criteria a particular website or organization uses to evaluate schools. Some ranking lists may prioritize input from high school counselors and alumni, while others may draw heavily from acceptance, retention, and graduation rates.

Next, ensure the college is regionally or nationally accredited. Regional accreditation is generally considered a more reliable indicator of academic quality. Then, investigate whether individual academic departments are accredited in their field. For example, if you plan on pursuing a business administration degree, you'll want to confirm that the program is accredited by a professional association.

You might also try to gauge the career and research achievements of the faculty in your department by seeing whether they have won any awards or received recognition for groundbreaking publications or discoveries.


School Size

Postsecondary institutions come in all sizes: you've got small liberal arts colleges with fewer than 1,000 students, and state universities that annually enroll over 30,000 learners.

While small schools may not offer as many program options as large universities, they do often provide specialized degrees — including self-designed majors — and a plethora of hands-on learning opportunities.

Small colleges can also mean smaller class sizes, allowing you to easily access one-on-one support from professors and advisors.

Students with clear interests and goals tend to thrive at big universities because they can take advantage of the diversity in coursework, activities, and professional resources. Due to their superior funding, large schools typically maintain well-stocked libraries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and nationally recognized sports tea ms.


Overall Cost

Choosing a college near your hometown generally means you'll get lower tuition rates.

According to the College Board, in-state residents attending a four-year public institution pay an average of $9,410 in tuition and fees, whereas out-of-state students pay $23,890. Private colleges do not consider residency status, charging all learners an average of $32,410 per year.

On top of tuition, you'll need to factor in room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and other miscellaneous student fees when calculating the total cost of attendance.

The best colleges boast not only affordable tuition, but also substantial financial aid packages. Make sure to speak with an academic advisor about the grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities offered at your prospective school.


Campus Environment

Because personal and professional growth also occurs outside the classroom, it's important to examine the campus environment when choosing a college.

If you value the spirit of sports camaraderie, you might consider schools with renowned athletic teams so that you can attend games and other social events. Similarly, colleges with active intramural sports organizations can allow you to form relationships through recreational and competitive activities.

If academic achievement is your main focus, consider enrolling at a research university that's recognized by the Carnegie Foundation. These institutions funnel substantial resources toward student and faculty projects.

Depending on your interests, you may want to look into schools with a strong commitment to Greek life, or a vibrant art scene.


Resources and Support Systems

To foster long-term success, you should consider your needs and wants as a whole person, not just as a student.

Before choosing a college, make sure the school can accommodate your spiritual life and any medical conditions or special learning requirements you may have. Many students experience homesickness and other emotional challenges when starting college, so it's a good idea to check the availability of counseling services and health and wellness programs ahead of time.

While writing and tutoring are ubiquitous among higher education institutions, be sure you can conveniently access these resources should you end up needing them.

Finally, your college of choice should offer an array of career services to help you obtain internships, network with potential employers, and creat e engaging resumes and cover letters.