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Your priorities help determine top universities

Your college education is an investment in your future. Therefore, choosing the best university for your academic interests, educational goals, and career plans is essential.

To determine the best colleges to pursue, first decide which characteristics are most important to you.

Campus culture, composition and size of student body, costs, majors and degree programs, quality of education, and social options are some of the most common criteria to consider. However, type of school, setting, location, and professional needs are also important.

Top colleges or top universities

Colleges offer 4-year bachelor's degrees or 2-year associate's degrees. Some colleges specialize in a particular field such as nursing while others — like liberal arts colleges — offer a broad spectrum of academic programs.

In contrast, universities offer a wider variety of degree programs including associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees and usually include liberal arts colleges, professional colleges, and graduate schools.

Public versus private institutions
Public colleges and universities are primarily funded by and governed by the states in which they are located and are generally less expensive than private schools.

Conversely, private colleges and universities attain the bulk of their funding from private sources and are run by individuals and organizations in the private sector.

The type of school does not necessarily determine the quality of education. Many of the best universities and colleges are public, so your education does not have to suffer if you decide to attend a public institution.

Campus setting and location
Where would you feel most comfortable and fulfilled studying and living?

A college situated in a picturesque rural setting will provide peace and quiet. On the other hand, the social and cultural offerings of a big city might appeal to you. Perhaps a suburban or small town setting is more your style.

Geographic location is also important. Do you want to live at home and commute to school, or are you more interested in moving to a region of the country that has a particular climate or environment?

Professional goals
If you have determined your career path or professional goals, your list of top universities and colleges should include schools that offer outstanding degree programs in your field, specialize in your field, or are recognized in the business sector for its programs in your field.

A list of the best colleges minimizes frustration

Choosing a college is an exciting but challenging process. Creating a list of top colleges and universities will make identifying the right college more efficient and less time consuming.