Gauge 6 Factors to Find the Right College Fit

Weigh characteristics such as cost, size and location carefully in deciding which college to attend.

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School size, academics and finances are just some of the factors to consider before choosing a college or university.
School size, academics and finances are just some of the factors to consider before choosing a college or university.

Planning to enroll in college soon? There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to finding the college or university that suits you best. Before you make up your mind about where you'll get your degree, make sure you take the following things into consideration.

1. Consider the type: From technical colleges to public universities, your ideal type of higher education may be based on how much money you have available, what kind of job you want to have and how much you value prestige and selectivity. If you're looking to become a dental assistant, medical technician, mechanic or hairstylist, you'll most likely want to look into technical colleges or trade schools.

[Find out about scholarships for transfer students.]

If you're short on cash but want to end up with a four-year degree, you could consider starting out at a community college and earning your associate degree before you move on to a four-year institution. And if you're looking for a smaller school with more personal attention, a private college might be the best fit.

2. Consider the cost: We won't tell you to automatically choose the cheapest option available to you, but cost should be a huge factor when deciding on a college. If your heart is set on an expensive college but you don't have much cash on hand for tuition and living expenses, don't sign away your life just yet.

[Check out which colleges offer the best value.]

You need think about what your student loan situation could be when you graduate. Do you want to be paying more than $500 a month for student loans after graduation? Will you be able to afford those payments? If the career you hope to enter doesn't pay well, consider carefully whether or not the prestige is worth the dent it will put in your pocketbook.

3. Consider your major: You may already have your heart set on a particular institution. It meets all your requirements for the perfect college, and you can't wait to load up the car and move into the dorms.

But it's important to research the institution's various academic programs before you make a final decision. If you're hoping to end up with a career as a graphic designer or an opera singer but the school lacks quality art or music departments, you may end up regretting your decision and transferring.

[Find scholarships for hot and not-so-hot majors.]

4. Consider the location: Are you planning to live at home? It's smart to choose a college within easy driving distance or that has public transportation as an option. Do you have a part-time job you'd like to go home to on the weekend? Make sure your college is within a few hours' drive.

Then again, if you can't wait to get out of Dodge and see the world — and don't plan on coming home much — a college on the other side of the country might just be perfect. Think about whether you prefer a small college town setting or a big city atmosphere. Both have advantages, so it depends on where you feel more comfortable.

5. Consider the size: This is where your personality can really come into play. Some students love the fast-paced, energetic setting of a big school — not to mention the tremendous opportunities it can bring. Other people prefer to get to know their professors and peers on a more personal level and can't wait to get involved in everything on campus, something that's easier to do at a smaller school.

[Explore more about how to find the right school.]

6. Consider the extras: Once you narrow down your list, it's time to think about fun part, the extras that could determine whether you survive or thrive in college.

What's the cafeteria like? Is the college a "suitcase school" or do students stay put on the weekends? Does it have an active Greek life or other clubs and activities that interest you? What about the sports teams?

Most importantly, when you toured the college, did you feel like you fit in?

With tuition at an all-time high at many colleges and universities across the country, it's essential that you weigh carefully a college's characteristics before you shell out thousands of dollars in tuition payments. And though it's important you feel comfortable and happy at the institution you decide to attend, you also need to think about life after college, which could be made extremely uncomfortable by the weight of your student loan debt.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.