What are the most important factors when choosing a college?

The most important factor when choosing a college is whether or not the college has what you need in order to succeed in your career goals.

What do you want to do when you graduate? What are you passionate about? What kind of atmosphere do you want on campus?

After the above questions are answered and you finish compiling a list of your college choices, now comes the next step: putting together an application. But how exactly do you make sure your application stands out from the pack? Click here to find out!

As you read the information below, you’ll discover how important it is to think beyond reputation or what your fellow students are doing, and really get to the root of who you are and what you want for yourself. Keep the above questions in mind as you make your way through this article to discover what’s most important when choosing a college.

“We encourage students to look at the entire college experience and ask them to think about which of the schools they apply to will provide them the greatest amount of value, not just in the degree, but in life and in education,” said [former] Career and University Advisor Patrick Stenger.


How to choose a college: factors to consider

Beyond the reputation of the college, there are several factors you and your family should think about and discuss to make sure you choose a school that actually makes you happy.

An Ivy League school may be what you think you want, but it may not give you the community feel you’re looking for or even need.

Below, we explore the two essential factors to help you understand how to choose a college.


1. Focus on what makes you happy rather than what others are doing

“I think it’s good to start with a very open mind and a willingness to set aside what you know and explore and investigate with a critical eye opportunities, institutions, countries that you’re unfamiliar with because then you can see what’s actually out there,” said Mr. Stenger.

It's common for students from the same high school to apply to the same colleges. There could be many factors behind this phenomenon, but it seems unlikely that the same school would be the right fit for most of a graduating class.

Try to set aside what you think you may know as well as any preconceived assumptions about post-secondary institutions and remember there are many quality schools ready to discover.

In addition to trying to stand out from the crowd, it’s also important to look for meaningfulness and fulfillment, and only you can define that for yourself when choosing a college.

“If you’re able to do that, as a byproduct, as a consequence, you will just be happy,” said Mr. Stenger.


2. Focusing on the ‘right fit’ over ranking and why it’s important

“There is no evidence that students’ learning will suffer from attending a less selective college… the students who benefit the most from a college are those who are most engaged in their academics and campus communities,” note the authors of a research paper for Challenge Success, a Stanford University-affiliated organization that partners with communities to promote student well-being and engagement with learning.

In our Careers and University Advising Department, this is something Mr. Stenger teaches both students and families the moment they enter High School.

“I want my students to believe in themselves and believe that they are truly the ones who will make that difference in their lives, not the name of the institution,” he said. Learn more about ISB's college counseling programs and services.


When searching for the ‘right fit,’ keep in mind who you are as a person.

“The more you focus on establishing that best fit, the more you will gain throughout the four- or five-year experience, an experience which will propel you forward in a more positive direction,” said Mr. Stenger.

When choosing a college that is the right fit for you, look at:

  • Its choice of majors and minors and whether or not they have what you need in order to achieve your career goals
  • Its curriculum and whether or not it’s something you can manage
  • Its campus life and whether or not it has the atmosphere you crave. Odds are you won’t be in class all day, and therefore it’s important to look at the world around the school. Does the school offer extra-curricular activities of interest to you? Are there strong work-study positions? What is its student association like?
  • The city around the college. Is it a place with an interesting history? What is there to do around the school? Are there enough activities to keep you occupied?

And for those thinking employers check what college you attended first and foremost before moving forward with your application, A “Fit” Over Ranking suggests otherwise: “While some employers might check the name on your college transcript, most care far more about your track record in the field, basic communication and problem-solving skills, and the attitude and work ethic you bring to the table.”

ISB students smiling while heading to graduation


When choosing a college it’s important to research, and then research some more

With the above information in mind, make a list of the colleges you’d like to attend and then dive into researching all of them further. Create a living, breathing document.

Commonly, the focus is on whether or not you can get into your chosen college and how said institution can open doors once you graduate. But it’s important to keep in mind the time between the day you get in and the day you leave - the four or five years when you’re actually part of the school.

When researching, look at:

  • The college life
  • Retention rates
  • Diversity of the campus
  • The size of the school and its location
  • Housing

Make sure to use multiple sources when researching colleges

From college brochures, to school websites, to their social channels, to college publications, to current students and alumni, to reviews, there are numerous places to look when choosing a college. The more you equip yourself with knowledge, the better decision you’ll be able to make.

In addition to using the college’s resources, here are some helpful links for research:

“When you can apply critical thought, investigate, explore, evaluate, and challenge what makes a great university a great university, reflect that back on who you are as a learner, who you are as a young person and what your academic, career, and life goals are within that next four to five years,” said Mr. Stenger. "That is when you will be able to find your school.”

The Careers and University Advising department at ISB works to empower students to make a well-informed decision.

“We believe in you, we believe in your ability to decide, to participate, to contribute, to ultimately achieve – it’s within your power,” Mr. Stenger said.

Once the research is completed, now comes the part of actually sending in your application. Colleges receive countless applications every year, so how exactly do you guarantee yours sticks out? Click the link below to find out!

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