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Tips for Finding a College Match

Characteristics Your Child Should Consider

How can your child find colleges that match his needs? First, he should identify his priorities. Next, he should carefully research the characteristics of a range of schools. Finally, match the two. Here are some college characteristics to consider.

Size of the Student Body

Size will affect many of your child's opportunities and experiences, including:

  • range of academic majors offered

  • extracurricular possibilities

  • amount of personal attention your child will receive

  • number of books in the library

In considering size, your child should be very sure to look beyond the raw number of students attending. For example, perhaps she's considering a small department within a large school. She should investigate not just the number of faculty, but also how accessible faculty members are to students.


Does your child want to visit home frequently, or does he see this as a time to experience a new part of the country? Perhaps he would like an urban environment with access to museums, ethnic food, or major league ball games. Or maybe he hopes for easy access to the outdoors or the serenity of a small town.

Academic Programs

If your child knows what she wants to study, she can research reputations of academic departments by talking to people in the fields that interest her. If your child is undecided, as many students are, she may want to relax and pick an academically balanced institution that offers a range of majors and programs. Students normally don't pick a major until their sophomore year, and those students that know their major before they go to college are very likely to change their mind. Most colleges offer counselling to help students find a focus.

In considering academic programs, your child should look for special opportunities and pick a school that offers many possibilities.

Campus Life

Your child should consider what college life will be like beyond the classroom. It's important for students to maintain a balance between academics, activities, and social life. Before choosing a college, he should learn the answers to these questions:

  • What extracurricular activities, athletics, and special interest groups are available?

  • Does the community around the college offer interesting outlets for students?

  • Are students welcomed by the community?

  • Is there an ethnic or religious group in which to take part?

  • How do fraternities and sororities influence campus life?

  • Is housing guaranteed?

  • How are dorms assigned?


In considering cost, look beyond the price tag.

Today's college price tag makes cost an important consideration for most students. At the same time, virtually all colleges work to ensure that academically qualified students from every economic circumstance can find financial aid that allows them to attend. In considering cost, look beyond the price tag to the assistance available.


Your child should explore what she might gain from a diverse student body. The geographic, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity of the students can be a means of learning more about the world. Investigate what kinds of student organizations or other groups with ethnic or religious foundations are active and visible on campus.

Retention and Graduation Rates

One of the best ways to measure a school's quality and the satisfaction of its students is to learn the percentage of students who return after the first year and the percentage of entering students who remain to graduate. Comparatively good retention and graduation rates are indicators that responsible academic, social, and financial support systems exist for most students.

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