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How to Decide on a College - Choosing the Right College

Updated on January 6, 2018
Dolores Monet profile image

Member of a large budget conscious family, Dolores shares tips on how to save money on home projects, cooking, and home haircuts.


How to Choose a College

College decisions can be complicated anxiety producers for both parents and prospective students but if you approach the process in a manner both practically and emotionally, you will find a school that fits his or her abilities and personality.

The college decision can be broken down into components and the components weighed according to your individual concerns. Remember, when mulling over these points, you are dealing with a child, an unformed and uninformed immature person. You need to work with school councilors, educate yourself and consider your child’s personality, abilities and specific goals.

Factors in a college decision include your student’s present Grade Point Average, SAT scores, financial concerns, maturity level, the type of schools you are looking at, and the kind of education most beneficial to your prospective student.


In order to even be accepted into college, your student needs to have appropriate academic skills, high school grades, and motivation. Investigate the average Grade Point Average of for incoming freshmen of schools that interest you and your child. The higher the GPA of incoming freshmen, the more difficult it will be to get in and the more challenges course work will be offered at that school.

The higher your child’s GPA and SAT score, the more likely he or she will be accepted into the college of his or her choice and the greater the likelihood of your child receiving scholarship money or financial aid.

Students who want to go to college but have a GPA lower than 3.5 or with an unsatisfactory SAT score may choose to get their feet wet at a local community college. There, they can train for a 4-year college and raise their GPA. They can improve study skills and see if they are able to meet the standards of college level courses. Their grades, in most cases, can be transferred to a 4-year institution.

Remember that a school is only worth what your student is able to glean from it. Remember also, that in general, a job applicant from a more prestigious school will get automatic bonus points. A school with a great reputation or that allows students networking opportunities will help in her future as well.

(Wikimedia commons)
(Wikimedia commons)

Financial Concerns and College Decision

Finance is always an important factor in a college decision. My son was offered a full scholarship (tuition, room and board) to a school that offered a program in his intended field of study. However, the primary major of that school was business, and the second most popular major was sports studies.

Another school offered full tuition (room and board on our dime) but was a higher quality school, a traditional liberal arts college with a very different student population with very different interests. Financially, for us, the first school would have been the more logical choice. But knowing that students often switch majors and understanding the opportunities for the intellectual growth our son so craved, we opted for school #2. It was the right choice.

But it often comes down to which school offers the best package appropriate to your own personal financial concerns. Often, paying for college is a game of juggling. Money to pay for college comes from several sources that can all work together.

College scholarship programs. The largest chunk of scholarship money will usually come form the school itself. Merit scholarships apply to the kids with high GPAs and SAT scores.

Colleges also look at extra-curricular activities pursued during high school years. A very intelligent student may pale in comparison to a go-getter who shows interests in a variety of activities. One school we visited offered an automatic $10,000.00 per year scholarship to National Honor Society members. In other words, the student earned $10,000.00 a year during high school for drama, playing sports and becoming involved in political or social interest groups.

Financial aid scholarships are available to low income families with high achieving students. Parents need to do their homework, investigate opportunities, and don’t always depend on the high school guidance office.

Other, private scholarships pay be available but generally don’t offer the large package offered by the school.

Your own money. You can be billed monthly for your share of the tuition, hopefully less than indicated in college financial information packets. Take a good long look at your budget to see how much you can afford. Do you have a college savings plan? Is money or some of it already set aside for college? Don’t forget that college costs may rise while your student is in school.

Student Loans can become burdensome to a recent college graduate. Check around for interest rates. Years ago, student loan interest rates were quite low but that is no longer the case. One percentage point can make a big difference. Loan payments can be postponed if the student goes on to graduate school or volunteers for certain government programs such as Peace Corps.

Community college may be a factor in the financial decision. Two-year colleges are generally much cheaper than 4-year institutions. Their credits can usually transfer to a 4-year college. If you go to Podunk Junior College then transfer to Ivy League U, the diploma will be from Ivy League U.

Don’t forget the costs of additional fees, equipment purchases, textbooks, transportation, and spending money. Textbooks are very expensive but can often be found at the college or used online.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the form used by the United States Department of Education to figure out your expected family contribution towards your child's education based on your personal financial information. FAFSA is used by all US colleges to decide on eligibility for aid, grants, and loans and must be completed in order for your child to be able to receive any scholarship or aid.


You may be thinking about college when your child is only 15 years old. It’s hard to look at that kid out front pulling wheelies on a bike and visualize him in a foreign environment without daily parental support. You just can’t envision little junior managing such an independent life! He’ll miss you all so! He’ll never do his homework! You just can’t see your baby all alone in a strange new world.

There is a huge difference between 15 and 18. That child will, more than likely, be raring to go out into the world on an adventure of self-discovery.

Maturity is needed for a student to fulfill obligations, to study, eat properly and get enough rest in an independent environment.

Look at the people your child hangs out with. Do they support one another in a positive way? Are they all academically motivated, pretty sensible kids? Or are they all infantile lazy hoodlums. (Do not confuse high-jinks and silliness with immaturity)

When a kid goes away to college, she forms bonds that imitate family. Kids looks for respect, support and affection from other similar minded young people. The right kind of friends can make a big difference in your child’s success. If the gang is more interested in parties, avoiding responsibility or spending long hours slack jawed in front of the TV, that’s the kind of person your child feels comfortable with. That’s the group she’ll fall in with at school.

If your child hangs out with active, school oriented friends who respect her for what she is and encourage her to do well – that’s the kind of friends she’ll look for at college.

Again, community college can fill in the time gap for your child to mature. One of my sons had been 18 for 5 months by the time he went away to college. The youngest one would be in college at 17. Community college will give him time to mature.


There are many camps for teens that offer opportunity to participate in many areas of interest from art, to marine biology, drama, and politics. Send your son or daughter to a one or two week camp and let them sample time away from you, bunking with strangers. Often, such camps are held at college campuses and your child will have a min-college experience that can give him a taste of what it would be like to go away to college.

Some churches and clubs provide opportunities for kids to go away on extended trips. These can help as well. You’ll feel safe with your child in the company of familiar folks. So, there is safety but not the confidence building interaction and bonding with a whole new bunch of people.

Our eldest son went to a camp and came back with a roaring hunger to go away to college. It gave him self-confidence. I think he was a lot more comfortable leaving home for college after that experience.

Visit Colleges

Visit colleges. Visit as many colleges as you can. Just remember that on visiting day, the college is running a huge sales operation featuring charming professors and very often, free food. Don’t let the giant cookies cloud your observations.

There are several questions to ask yourself (and your prospective student to ask himself) on these visits.

  •  Size matters. Some kids want the huge variety of opportunities of formal classes and extracurricular activities offered at a large university. Others cringe at the thought of 35,000 fellow students and classes that fill an auditorium.

  • Environment. Will your prospective student feel more comfortable in an urban setting with all the cultural and social advantages a big city has to offer? Or would a small college town fit his personality. Perhaps, a rural college in a natural setting is best for an outdoor oriented kid. It’s a very personal decision.

  • Student population. In visiting colleges and after acceptance at orientation, I talked with a lot of kids and their parents. It was amazing, the different reasons a kid formed immediate decisions when they looked at the students of the schools they visited. One young lady I spoke with rejected a college when she noticed the very well dressed female students all sporting make-up and fashionable hair-dos. ‘Too much upkeep,’ she decided. Another rejected a school with a high population of hippies. One young man rejected a school because of the preponderance of alcohol-related posters on dorm room doors and another because the school had 2 Republican clubs but only one Democratic club.

These reasons, on one hand, may sound ridiculous and picky, but those young people quickly assessed the probability that they would not fit in.

The guys relax in the dorm

(Wikimedia commons)
(Wikimedia commons)

In order for your student to do well at college, all these factors must be addressed.

Studies show that a student living at an out of town college succeeds more than commuter students. Living at college offers the young person more opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities not offered in formal classes. The student who lives at college quickly feels at home there and involves himself in college life.

College is not just about formal education. It is time for a young person to form a personality independent of the daily influence of family, home and friends they’ve had since 1st grade. At home, a child is always a child, even if he’s 6’2” The young person who leaves home for college has the chance to realize his or her individuality in a safe environment with young people all in the same place in life though their backgrounds can be quite diverse.

The decision making process is a long arduous task, but looking back on our own family experience, was a wonderful time, and a great bonding experience for all of us. The giant cookies were great too.


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    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      ElleBee - Well I hope that worked out well for your sister. Sometimes a very young person is not ready even for the community college experience as it does take some independent behavior. A very young student needs the maturity to get to class and fulfill obligations. But attending community college can remove a young student from an undesirable element in high school, kids that don't really want an education. Thanks!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Community college can definitley be a great option for younger students. My sister was only 15 when she started taking community college classes and it was GREAT for her. She had been involved in some "mature" activities at school that led her to make the choice to leave HS and study at the community college instead. No one even knew she was so young except the advisors of the Early Admission program and our cousin who was there as a 16 year old.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      and one thing a lot of people don't realize:

      The diploma from the 4-year institution that you transfer to and eventually graduate from, looks the same whether you started and did all 4 years there (paying a lot more money!) or transferred in from the community college!

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Digital, well good for you and I'm sure it wasn't all luck but hard work and determination on your part. I did not use the world university because some people here go to college and we pretty much use the word to describe higher level education. I would not attempt to speak to people outside of the US about higher education outside of the Us because I don't know anything about it. Thanks!

    • digitalexplorer profile image


      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Interesting and helpful tips to pursue college degrees. It is amusing because, since now Im residing in the UK, the term college is normally used for non-degree courses (certificates) or in Australia it refers to the dormitory or boarding places inside the universities. I think it is more proper to use "university" degrees to capture your readership from UK and Europe. On the other hand, you discussed the basic issues in choosing the best options to pursue higher education. I was lucky to get postgrad degrees internationally.

    • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Seth - I know of a lot of kids who have spent at least a year abroad and it was a wonderful, rewarding experience. Thank you for the suggestion.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      One option that's often overlooked is attending college abroad. That way, you can get the best of both worlds - a great, affordable education and often a new cultural perspective. A friend of mine who was interested in medicine attended St. George's University in Grenada - Imagine that, classes by the Caribbean Sea... But, to each their own. There are tons of universities across the world where one could have a great experience.


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