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We know you’re busy, so we're here to take the guesswork out of financial aid, college applications, and how to survive college life.

Naturally, you want to find the best school possible that fits your budget and the location or locations that interest you. The question is; how do you find the best? If you talk to a good admissions representative, they are going to tell you many reasons why their school is the best. Most college brochures will boast about being ranked as a top school by some organization. Your friends, siblings, parents' teachers, and others might chime in with their top pics of best schools (usually the one they are going to or graduated from). Shouldn't there be a resource out there somewhere that just tells you which schools are the best? Wouldn't it be nice if an article like this one was able to point you to that resource? That would indeed be nice, but unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Like most things related to college, finding the best college is not as easy as checking a list. We can't point you to one place that will tell you exactly how you should rank your potential school choices. What we can do is provide some information that will make your decision process easier.

Consider your own unique situation

If you look at school rankings online, the first thing you'll discover is that top universities are ranked in a variety of ways. This means you'll need to make a list of characteristics that are important to you. The first thing you want to look at is your degree program. If you want a degree in engineering, it wouldn't make sense to go a school that is ranked in the top five schools for liberal arts degrees! You may next want to consider things like budget, location, public or private school, campus atmosphere, etc. Once you have that listed out, you are ready to begin your search.

Looking at some rankings online

Now that you have your list, you are armed with some qualifiers that will help you put the rankings you find online into some context. There are plenty of places to look:

  • US News and World Report: This publication ranks schools in a variety of ways, including National Universities, liberal arts colleges, business programs and engineering programs. They have many rankings on their website and more available in an annual publication
  • Forbes: There is a list here that just ranks the best schools according to their research. The key to remember is that even a school ranked in the top 5 may not be in your top 5 if it doesn't meet your requirements. Forbes continues to break down into categories such as best public universities, best private universities, best universities with good athletics and academics.
  • The Princeton Review: This ranking is different, and in many ways, it may prove to be the most informative. Schools are ranked according to many different categories, and the rankings are based on data received from student surveys – usually over one hundred thousand of them. This provides you information that is from a student's perspective.

Listen to those around you

When your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, or any other relation tells you what they think the best college is, listen to them. Take a few moments to ask some questions. Why do you think it is the best? What was/is your experience going to that school? What did you like best? What didn't you like? Those around you are a good resource, make sure you take advantage of their willingness to give you information.

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