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Developing your list of top colleges

There are many who believe that top colleges like Harvard and top universities like Yale are the best possible choices for any student. The best college, however, is the one that meets your academic, social, and personal needs and interests.

The first step in choosing the right school is to develop a list of top colleges that is based on the most important criteria for your education.

Most important criteria of top universities and colleges

The criteria that you use to develop a list of the best colleges will depend on your personality, values, academic interests, and career goals.

However, some of the most important criteria include quality of academic offerings, campus culture, costs, and location and environment.

Academic offerings

If you have an idea of your major and career path, then you can identify schools that have excellent academic programs in your field. If you are interested in the arts, engineering, health, or a specific profession, you may need to look at schools that specialize in your area. Otherwise, choosing an academically-balanced college that offers a variety of majors and programs might be a better option. Many of the best universities have a wide range of study options.

Student-to-teacher ratio, faculty expertise, and academic resources such as libraries, computer labs, and learning centers are also important aspects of a college’s academic offerings.

Campus culture and community

When developing your list of top universities, consider the schools’ values such as commitment to diversity, openness to religious expression, and dedication to academic excellence. Also consider the range of student organizations, athletic and recreational activities, performing arts programs, and entertainment options.

In addition, the college’s relationship with the larger community, availability of on- and off- campus housing, quality of food and health care services, and campus security contribute to the quality of college life.

Costs of the best colleges and universities

If cost is a major issue, your list may only include public colleges and universities because they are less expensive — for in-state students — than private ones. You do not have to sacrifice quality for cost because many public institutions offer excellent academic and social programs.

In addition, look closely at financial aid options offered by private colleges. These packages can often make a private education affordable.

Location and campus environment

When developing your list of the best colleges, you should consider the type of setting you prefer, whether it is rural, urban, or suburban. You should also consider the region of the country, size of the student body, opportunities offered in the area where the college is located, and the school’s proximity to your home.

Campus infrastructure including modern technology and equipment, research laboratories, recreational facilities, retail shops, and restaurants may also factor into your decision.

Make your list

You may already know what some of the best universities or colleges are in your area from talking to friends or teachers, but you can find out about more schools and broaden your opportunities through careful online research.

Web sites like Peterson’s provide searchable extensive lists of schools. You can search by location, majors, or the criteria that are most important to you. You can also visit the Web sites of the schools that look most promising.

Once you compile your list of favorites, examine their admission requirements to determine if you qualify. Then consider visiting your favorites to help you decide which is the best university for you.