College Search Step-by-Step

Find the right college for you.

Find Colleges That Are Right for You.

Although there's no magic formula for choosing a college, you can start by asking yourself some questions that help most students find the right fit.

Use this guide to:

  • Learn about some key college search categories.
  • Answer questions to discover what's important to you.
  • Get advice from college students and educators.

It's your journey. We're just here to help. Don't forget to make use of our College Search and Career Quiz to get off to a good start.

Types of Colleges

Begin by considering these questions:

  • Do I want to go to a 2-year or 4-year college? At a 2-year college, students earn an associate degree and/or a certification. At a 4-year college, students earn a bachelor's degree. Many students begin at a 2-year college on the way to a bachelor's degree at a 4-year college.
  • Am I limiting my choices by focusing on whether a college is public or private? Many students exclude private colleges because they think they're more expensive, but that's not always the case. Financial aid can sometimes make private colleges as affordable as public colleges. And private colleges aren’t always more selective.
  • Am I limiting my choices by focusing on whether a college is public or private? Many students exclude private colleges because they think they're more expensive, but that's not always the case. Financial aid can sometimes make private colleges as affordable as public colleges. And private colleges aren’t always more selective.
two female students outside


Many students begin their college search by setting a limit on how far away from home they want to be. This might be an easy way to narrow the many options out there, but it doesn't mean you'll find the best colleges for you. Keep your mind open. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • How close to home do I want to be? Close enough for meals and laundry, to visit on weekends, or to only come home on breaks?
  • Do I want to stick to an environment I'm used to or try something new?
  • If I look just a little farther─ a few more miles or another half hour away─ what are other opportunities open to me ?
  • Am I staying close because I think it will be less expensive? Could some out-of-state schools be more affordable?
  • Am I more comfortable in a rural, urban , or suburban setting?
  • Do I prefer a warm or cold climate? What if I want to enjoy all the seasons?

Campus Life

Many students say that campus size and feel were a big part of their college choice. Whether or not you already have a mental image of what college life should be like, visiting a college and talking to students is a perfect way to get to know a campus. But first, think about what matters to you:

  • Do I see myself at a college with lots of students or in a smaller community?
  • Do I want to be at a college where students stay on campus most of the time? Do I want to live in a resident hall?
  • Do I want to be around people with different interests or to be mostly with people with interests similar to mine ?
  • Do I want to be at a school where sports are a significant part of student life? Do I want a school known for its activism? Or its academic ranking?


For many families, cost is a big concern─ understandably. But it doesn't have to be such a big hurdle. College is usually more affordable than you think. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do I have the facts about what colleges will cost? Students don't usually pay the published price because of financial aid. You shouldn't rule out colleges early in your search just based on their cost.
  • Will I qualify for financial aid? You should apply for aid, whether or not you think you’ll qualify. Many students get financial help from the government or the college itself.
  • Am I eligible for scholarships? Certain characteristics or accomplishments might qualify you for private or college scholarships that award money you won't have to pay back.
  • Will I need a loan? Student loans can help build credit, but they can also be a burden to some people. Consider the types of jobs available upon graduation with your degree or certification.


A college major is the subject area you'll be concentrating on most. Many students think they have to know what their major will be before they start college. In fact, you have plenty of time to decide on a major, and a lot of students change their major more than once. Here are some questions that can help you think about majors that may interest you:

  • What are my favorite school subjects? What do I like doing when I'm not in class?
  • Do I want to take classes in many different subjects or devote most of my time to one subject?
  • What do I want to do after college? Which majors can make that happen?

Learning Environment

As you know, college is about learning. It makes sense to imagine your ideal learning environment. Don't limit yourself to a college's reputation, rank, or selectivity. What's more important is how well a college's academic style suits you . Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I learn best when I'm academically comfortable or academically challenged?
  • Do I prefer to be part of small group discussions or to listen to lectures? How much interaction do I want with my professors?
  • What sort of balance am I looking for between studying and having a social life?
  • Do I want to choose most of my classes myself, or do I prefer more structure?


How do you effectively search for colleges?

There are many ways to choose the right schools for you, but the College Board’s career quiz can make the process easier. All you have to do is enter some information and find the colleges that align with your aspirations .

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What’s the College Board Student Search Service?

Student Search Service™ is a program offered by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers standardized tests like the SAT. This free service helps to connect students with educational and scholarship opportunities that match their interests and preferences. Students who are contacted by colleges through Student Search receive, on average, 29% more offers of college admission.

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How can I find college scholarships?

Scholarship Search is a tool that allows you to create a profile with standard information requested by many college scholarship applications. This profile is used to match you with scholarships that you're eligible for based on their requirements. You'll be able to reuse the information for other applications without having to retype your personal information for each subsequent application.

The College Board National Recognition Programs award academic honors to underrepresented students. The four national recognition programs include the National African American Recognition Program, National Hispanic Recognition Program, National Indigenous Recognition Program, and National Rural and Small Town Recognition Program. Students who take eligible administrations of the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or AP Exams will be considered for awards. Students must also identify as Black, African American, Latino, Hispanic, Indigenous, or attend high school in a rural area or small town. This isn’t a scholarship program. However, students can include this academic honor in their college and scholarship applications.

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