Let’s say you’re in the process of choosing which university you would like to attend. Maybe you’re getting ready to graduate from high school. Maybe you’re coming back to school after a long hiatus. Maybe you are looking for a strong grad school. Regardless, you are bound to feel a little overwhelmed with all of the factors you need to consider. After all, going to college is a huge investment of your time and money. The question likely hanging over your every waking thought is, “Which one should I attend?”

Sure, Princeton Review, U.S. News, and CNN Money all have their rankings for best universities. They rank colleges on the basis of graduation rates, retention rates, class sizes, ACT/SAT scores, and so on. Although these rankings provide bragging rights for highly ranked schools, they do little to help prospective students actually make an educated choice about which school to attend. And you can’t really rely on the propaganda that floods your mailbox from admissions offices.
So, which one should you choose? How do you know which one is right? For each person, the criteria and answers will vary. However, there are a few factors that everyone should mull over. Following are four of the most important:
1. Subject
You probably have some inkling of what you would like to have a career in. Regardless of their overall ranking, each college tends to have a few subjects that it really excels at. Some are superb at the performing arts but have dreadful engineering programs. Some are excellent in pre-med but awful for law.
Therefore, the first thing you should do is make a list of schools that excel at what you are looking for. This will go a long way to narrow down your list and keep you from enrolling in a school to major in Journalism, only to find that they don’t have such a program.
2. Cost
The cost of attending college makes a big difference. Some schools have higher tuition than others. Some schools are located in areas with high living expenses. Some schools offer a myriad of scholarships and financial aid. It will be up to you to determine how much you can handle and whether the price is worth the quality of education.
3. Location
Where a school is located has a great influence on a student’s well-being during their time there. Each location has its own weather, culture, and temperament. It may be next door to your parents’ house or on the opposite side of the country. It may be close to the beach or surrounded by hundreds of miles of flat plains.
This is where you should ask yourself some questions. Are you okay with living far from home? Are you unlikely to enjoy long, cold winters? Are you easily annoyed by that Bostonian accent? Whatever location you choose, you will be making that place your home for the next four years. Make sure it’s someplace you can live with.
4. Culture
From notorious party schools to stone-cold sober schools, liberal to conservative, competitive to laid back, every school has its own unique culture. Nothing can sink your educational experience faster than feeling like you don’t belong. Do some research beforehand to find out what your target school’s culture is like. You can find great resources online or with friends and family who have attended your prospective college.
There’s my two cents on the subject. Good luck in your search! College can be the best time of your life… if you pick the right one.
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