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If you are a junior or senior in high school, you are quite likely doing your best to decide which of your many college options are worthy of the time and effort it takes to complete and submit an application for admission. You’ve received a ton of brochures and postcards in the mail from prospective colleges. Your friends have told you about the colleges they’d like to attend. You’ve probably sought advice from teachers and family members, and you’ve certainly done your share of research. So, when it comes time to start visiting schools and submitting your applications, how do you determine which schools would be the best fit for you? Here are five things to consider that may help you narrow down your list to something manageable.

1. Your Desired Area of Study

The first thing you’ll want to determine is if the school you’re researching has a degree program that fits well with your future plans. If, for example, you are looking for a degree in biology, you’d want to know how robust the school’s science programs are and what the graduation rate is for your particular discipline. Ideally, you’d like to get your degree somewhere that has a reputation for excellence in that particular degree. It’s a plus to know the job placement rate for that degree program – which will tell you how prospective employers view degrees from that particular school.

2. Location and Environment

Do you want to stay close to home or go to school out of state? Do you want to spend the next several years of your life close to a big city or in a rural environment? Would you prefer a large campus or a smaller school? These questions are important. Academics are only a portion of your college experience. It’s important to get a feel for the culture and environment of the schools you are thinking of attending. Think about how the school would fit with your lifestyle, your hobbies, and your preferences.

3. Cost and Financial Aid

If you are like most students, cost is an important factor in choosing a school. While your parents may be able to help with some of the cost and you may have some scholarships that will help, you’ll likely find yourself with some hefty student loans to pay off once you graduate. It can be helpful to do some research on cost and talk with an admissions person at the schools you are most interested in. Often, just looking at tuition rates won’t give you a clear idea on the actual cost to attend the school. Some colleges may have a lower tuition than others, but may not be able to offer as much financial aid as other schools. This can be especially true when looking at private vs. public colleges. In order to determine the cost, talk to an admissions person about scholarships, grants, and other financial aid that may be available to you.

4. Graduation Rate and Job Placement Rate

Your prospective college should have statistics on the graduation rate and the number of students who get a job in their field after they finish their degree. This information can help you determine how likely you are to be successful at that school. It will also give you some insight into how effective the school’s academic resources are in retaining students and helping them succeed. It is important to attend a school that provides effective resources and support for their students.

5. Listen to Your Gut

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of your own personal intuition. Sometimes you’ll visit a school or talk to an advisor and things just don’t feel right. Other times, you’ll research a school and for some reason you can very easily picture yourself there. While your intuitive impression of a school should never be the only consideration, you should not discount a gut feeling you have about a particular college.