How to Decide What College to Attend

Find the right college for you.

How to Decide Which College Is Best for You

Some students want to find the perfect college. The truth is, there's no such thing. However, you can find many colleges where you'll be happy and get an excellent education. The college search is about exploring who you are and what you want and then finding colleges where you can meet your goals. If you want to know how to choose a college, we’re here to help.

Although there may be many colleges where you’d be happy, it’s important to narrow the possibilities into a manageable list. Here are steps you can take to find colleges where you can thrive.

What College Should You Go to?

Reflect on what's important, where you want to be, and who you want to become. With those answers, you can figure out what types of colleges will allow you to reach your goals.

Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Distance from home
  • Available majors and classes
  • Housing options
  • Makeup of the student body
  • Available extracurricular activities
  • Campus atmosphere

Which of these are things you must have to be comfortable at a college? Which can you be more flexible about?

Also, think about what you want to accomplish in college. Do you want to train for a specific job or get a wide-ranging education? Ask yourself, "What do I want to go to college for?" If you have a major in mind, are the colleges you’re considering strong in that area?

two students doing work outside

Keep an Open Mind When Choosing Schools.

What else should you look for in a college? Although it's good to have some idea about what college could be right for you, stay open to all the possibilities as you begin your search. Here are some ways to keep an open mind when deciding where to go to college:

Challenge your assumptions about what will work for you. Luis Martínez-Fernández, a history professor at the University of Central Florida, notes, "You may not think you're able to thrive in a large institution because you come from a small high school, but you may actually do better in that type of setting."

Talk to people who know you well. Tell parents, teachers, relatives, family friends, and your school counselor about your goals. Ask them if they can suggest schools that may be a great fit for you.

Don't limit your search. At the start of this process, you might rule out some colleges because you think they're too expensive or hard to get into, but this may not be true. Remember that financial aid can make college more affordable, and keep in mind that colleges look at more than grades and test scores.

Do Your Homework to Discover the Right College.

Once you have a list of schools, it's time to research them in depth. To find the information you’re looking for, check out college guide websites, specific colleges' websites, and other available online tools.

Jot down your questions, and get answers by:

  • Talking to your school counselor or teachers.
  • Checking out colleges’ student blogs, if available.
  • Contacting college admissions officials directly or through tools like our Connect with Colleges feature
  • Asking admissions officials to recommend current students or recent graduates to talk to.
  • Visiting college campuses, if possible. For more information, see the Campus Visit Checklist.

Keep Perspective During College Selection.

During your search, keep asking yourself questions about your preferences and goals. You continue to evolve throughout high school. Your answers to "What college fits me?" may change during the search process.

Remember that there are many good college that are suitable for every student, and you can be successful at many types of schools. At College Board, we introduce test scores as one additional factor to weigh as you balance your list. Think about grouping your colleges into three categories:

  • Safeties: Your SAT or ACT score is higher than the average score range of last year’s first-year class.
  • Matches: Your SAT or ACT score is solidly in the same score range as last year’s first-year class.
  • Reaches: Your SAT or ACT score is lower than the average score range of last year’s first-year class.

To find this information, explore the BigFuture College Profile of every school you're interested in attending. You can view admissions data for easy comparison with your scores and high school GPA. There's also information about topics such as academics and tuition costs.

To have a balanced college list and increase your chances of acceptance, we recommend including three reach colleges, two matches, and one safety college.

How to Decide What College to Go to

There's no easy answer to the question, "What college should I go to?" Everyone's aspirations are unique. There's a good chance you'll find several schools that check off every box. Consider what factors are most important to you. Keep an open mind, explore all opportunities, and send in several applications to keep your options open.

There's no shortage of excellent schools to prepare you for your future. Learn more about them at BigFuture. Narrow your options. Find the college that’s best for you .


How can I know what college is right for me?

Figuring out what school is right for you involves asking yourself tough questions and researching your options. While there's no such thing as a perfect choice, you can follow the suggestions above and explore college profiles to see which colleges might be a good fit for you. You can try different filters based on your interests and needs to find colleges that are right for you.

Your ultimate decision will require some self-reflection, thinking about what you want to do with your life and what journey you want to take to get there. With that information in mind, you can explore your options, see what schools fit the bill, and do your homework to settle on the right match.

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What college should I go to if I don't know what I want to do?

If you're unsure about your career path, you can choose to learn more about schools with solid liberal arts programs or interdisciplinary studies majors. Another thing you might do is to begin at a two-year college, saving money until you’re ready to declare a major and settle on a college.

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Where’s the best place to attend college?

The best place to attend college depends entirely on your needs and where you think you’ll be successful. When asking yourself, "What kind of college should I go to?" think about what characteristics, locations, and environments would help you succeed. BigFuture has a variety of resources to help you consider what type of college might be the best fit for you. Start by exploring types of colleges. Consider what environment you might list best, including big vs. small colleges as well as campus settings.

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