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How do I choose the college that's right for me?

Updated: Jun 13, 2023


It's what everyone asks as you get close to your senior year...."where are you going to college?" Students feel a lot of pressure to make the right decision. Will I be happy there, is it prestigious enough, what if I don't make friends, can I afford it?


For those of us that live in Kansas, we should feel very fortunate. We have several in state options are very good schools, relatively affordable and accessible to many students (meaning the entrance requirements are not that competitive). They offer merit to good students and beautiful campuses with happy students. For students on the coasts or in states with large populations, it is much more competitive process. The colleges receive many more applications, making their entrance requirements much higher, and the likelihood of merit scholarships is lower.


No matter where you live, the process can feel overwhelming. When you don't know what you're looking for, that is true! But if you take some time to figure out what you want, what you can afford, and what you want to get out of your experience, it will be worth it, and these factors will help guide your decision!


You may feel hesitant to go to the popular in state option becuase “everyone else is going there.” But this isn't about "everyone else." It's about you and what's the right fit for you. In the end, you may decide one of the state schools is the right school for you! But you'll feel confident about your choice because you'll know you've thought about and made an informed decision.


So how do you know what college is right for you?


I recently attended a seminar with Ethan Sawyer “The College Essay Guy,” that was titled “How to Build a Great College List.” I highly recommend checking out his website. It is full of free tools and advice.


Ethan recommends these steps when choosing a college:

  1. Get to know your interests and preferences

  2. Discover what specific qualities you want in a college.

  3. Create an initial list of colleges that match this criteria.

  4. Research your chances of getting in to these colleges and organize your school list by REACH, MAYBE, and LIKELY

  5. Narrow down your results into your final list and apply!


You may notice that nothing is said here about cost… that’s where your “criteria” comes in! When choosing what you want from a college, be sure to know your budget and make "is in my budget" as one of your criteria. This will mean researching tuitions costs and possible merit scholarships.


How do I know what your interests and preferences are...and what qualities you want from a college?


It's time to ask yourself some questions. Do you know what you want to study? Do you want a large campus or small campus? Is weather important to you? Do you prefer an urban campus or a more rural and self contained campus? Do you want the big campus sports teams? What extracurricular activities do you hope to get involved in? What are you most looking forward to about going to college?


Not every college looks and feels the same, and not every student wants a traditional college experience. Getting clear on what is most important to you and what criteria you can be flexible about is really helpful. In other words what are your "must haves" and what are your "would be nice" items. There are two resources that can help you with this. The first is a questionnaire from Stephen Antonoff, called the “Self -Survey for the College Bound.” It is free on his website:


The second resource was created by Ethan Sawyer and is called Corsava. It is another free tool that helps you sort and rate your preferences about what you want and don’t want from a school. There is a paid option to find schools that match the criteria, but just the act of sorting helps you define what’s important to you!


One of the primary criteria for choosing a college should be “Does it offer my major?” It is ok to be undecided about your major, but don't be apathetic. In other words, put some effort into knowing who you are and what you might like to do for you career. I do not think that everyone needs to know exactly what they want to do for their career before starting college, but I do think that narrowing it down and having a goal will give you more direction and motivation to do well in school and make the most of your experience. College has become so expensive that students need to be smart consumer and consider what their investment will get them.


I do think a liberal arts education from a great school will teach you a lot about your self and the world.I would just cautiion students to have discussions with these schools about internships and job placement services. If you love learning and you are interested in a smaller student/teacher ratios and an emphasis on student growth, look at Colleges that Change Lives for a different perspective.


Using assessments that measure your aptitudes and personality style are not meant to be prescriptive or “put you in a box.” They are meant to provide a framework and give you words to describe yourself. They also help you realize how you differ from others and what gifts make you unique. If you are outgoing and talkative, you likely take that for granted because you’ve "always been that way," but you need to know it is a gift that is helpful in many roles! Other people will struggle in those roles while you shine. Likewise, if you are an analytical problem solver, you likely thrive in planning and prioritizing, organizing information or creating systems, when others don't have the skill or patience to do these tasks. It can be so powerful to see your gifts in black and white so you can name them and celebrate them. Knowing your aptitudes and personal style helps you identify what you need from a career, and what you need to succeed and thrive in college. Consider an aptitude assessment process that doesn’t just give you a list of careers, but helps you understand who you are and how you are wired, like the process we use at True Compass.


A note about being undecided. There are many out there who promote the benefits of a liberal arts education. I do think that there are many schools that will teach you a lot about yourself and the world, with a focus on academia and critical thinking. I would just cautiion students to have discussions with these schools about internships and job placement services. If you love learning and you are interested in a smaller student/teacher ratios and an emphasis on student growth, look at Colleges that Change Lives for a different perspective.



Once I know what I want, how do I find the colleges that match my criteria?


Now that you’ve done some work to identify what majors you are interested in and what you want from your college experience, now it’s time to explore and find colleges that match your criteria. Before you even set foot on a campus for a visit, there are some things you can do:


  1. Use collegexpress.com to search according to your interests. You can search by criteria, region, or explore lists such as “ Best Pre-med programs," or "Best colleges in the Midwest."

  2. Check out CampusReel.org for virtual campus tours

  3. Visit www.unigo.com to read reviews and surveys from students at each university you are considering.

  4. Visit university websites to learn information about tuition, scholarships and merit scholarships to know if they are within your budget.

  5. Determine your chances of getting into these schools by looking at their stats. What is their general acceptance rate, average GPA or test scores of accepted students. If your stats fall in the middle of the data published for a school, these are possible. If your stats are better than what is published, then it is likely that you’ll get in. And if your stats are lower than their average students, these are considered reach schools. A few tools to explore the acceptance rate, GPA and test scores for colleges include: CollegeData or Cappex I have also found the Facebook group “Paying for College” to be helpful!

  6. VISIT your top campuses and ask a lot of questions! Every visit will tell you more about what you like and what you don't like. I encourage students to visit small and large campuses just to experience them firsthand. Sometimes, it's just the vibe you get from a campus or specific department that helps you know you've found the right place.


At True Compass, we'd love to help you discover who you are, how you're hard wired and what's important to you. Our assessment process is the perfect first step in the college search. Contact us today to get started! Visit www.truecompassllc.com or call 316-202-8090

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