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Characteristics You Should Consider

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

Size of the Student Body

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

  • Range of academic majors offered
  • Extracurricular possibilities
  • Amount of personal attention you'll receive
  • Number of books in the library

When considering size, be very sure to look beyond the raw number of students attending. For example, perhaps you're considering a small department within a large school. Investigate not just the number of faculty members, but also how accessible they are to students.


Do you want to visit home frequently, or do you see this as a time to experience a new part of the country? Perhaps you like an urban environment with access to museums, ethnic food, or major league ball games. Or maybe you hope for easy access to the outdoors or the serenity of a small town. Learn more 

Academic Programs

If you know what you want to study, research reputations of academic departments by talking to people in the fields that interest you. If you're undecided, relax and pick an academically balanced institution that offers a range of majors and programs. Most colleges offer counseling to help you find a focus.
In considering academic programs, look for special opportunities and pick a school that offers many possibilities.

Campus Life

Consider what your college life will be like beyond the classroom. Aim for a balance between academics, activities, and social life. Before choosing a college, 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?


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.


Explore what you might gain from a diverse student body. Think about the geographic, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity of the students as 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 percent of students who return after the first year and the percent 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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College Admissions: 16 Websites and Resources for Researching Colleges and Universities 

Search the Internet for “scholarships”, “financial aid”, and “college admissions” and you’ll find millions of search results. Experiencing information overload, it’s not unusual for students to select colleges based on reputation or suggestion. Many students and parents skimp on college research because they consider it time-consuming or they don’t know where to start. Often they miss out on important information and insight regarding specific programs of interest, scholarship opportunities, tactics to increase the likelihood of acceptance, and whether or not the school is actually a good academic, personal and financial fit. 

Finding both objective and subjective information about colleges doesn’t have to be difficult or overly time-consuming. You just need to know where to look. 

Here are sixteen resources (fifteen websites and one guide book) where students and parents can quickly get up to speed about individual colleges, affordability, admissions policies and the “inside scoop”: 

The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 

The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014, available on Amazon, is a very comprehensive college guidebook that provides great insights about academic strengths, on-campus life and the types of students who would be a good fit for a particular school. More than 300 popular colleges and universities are featured with a combination of factual data, insider information, and academic, social and quality of life ratings for each school. 

College Navigator ( is a free consumer information resource provided by the U.S. Department of Education. You can easily find and explore schools based on search criteria such as: academic major, location, size, varsity athletic programs, tuition, and entrance exam scores. The site’s design looks dated but contains a treasure trove of information. 

College Prowler ( is a refreshing alternative to school-published brochures and factual websites. The site offers inside reviews by current students, and “grades” on an interesting variety of aspects for each school. 

CollegeXpress ( provides college search options and lists that can help you identify and explore colleges by major, location and a variety of other criteria. You’ll find more than 700 lists — everything from academic major to campus vibe to vegetarian-friendly. The site can be utilized without creating a user account. 


Unigo ( posts “insider” reviews, videos and photos contributed by students attending the college. While the reviews can be highly subjective, they can help prospective students get a sense of a college’s atmosphere and pulse. Although the site encourages visitors to create a user account, it is not necessary to view for much of the content. 


College Board – Big Future 

College Board ( provides factual information for more than 3500 schools through its Big Future portal. You’ll find a broad range of information from the most popular majors to AP credit and placement policy. You’ll also find a “What Important” tab for each institution along with wait list statistics. 


U.S. Government – Campus Safety & Security 

Campus Safety and Security Data Tool ( maintained by the U.S. Government is helpful for evaluating schools from a safety perspective. 

Campus Tours – YOUniversityTV ( features entertaining and informative video tours of college campuses from Florida to California to Hawaii. 

College Reality Check 

College Reality Check ( provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education provides tool to compare schools on financial measures such as graduation rates, average net price, debt repayment and post-graduation earnings. 

College Portraits — Factual Information about Public Colleges 

College Portraits ( provides factual information for many public colleges and universities. 

College Results — Graduation Rates 

College Results Online ( provides interactive tools to query graduation rates at four-year colleges and universities. In addition to providing college-specific graduation rates and other data (e.g. cost, financial aid), the comparison tool provides analogous information for similar colleges. 

Kiplinger — Best College Values 

Kiplinger's Best College Values ( ranks U.S. colleges and universities in three separate lists: public, private universities, and liberal arts colleges. Users can query, view and sort the schools on each list by various financial and quality measures. 

U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 

U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges ( Beyond its annual rankings, the site offers a myriad of college data and guidance. In addition to ranking national universities and liberal arts colleges, you’ll find an assortment of interesting lists including: A+ Options for B Students, Learning Communities, Up-and-Coming Colleges, Internships-Co-ops, Study Abroad, Best Undergrad Teaching and Writing Programs. 

Fair Test — SAT / ACT Optional Schools 

FairTest ( The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a nonprofit advocacy organization provides a list of more than 800 four-year colleges and universities that do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree candidates. 

Common Data Set 

Common Data Set – Google “Common Data Set and Name of Institution” (e.g. Common Data Set Vanderbilt”) The Common Data Set refers that the source data that colleges and universities provide annually, in a standardized format, for use in college guides and other venues. Analyzing the data can provide insight about admissions, merit aid and other areas of interest.

College Confidential 

College Confidential (, the popular college admissions site and discussion forum is a source of school-specific gossip (whether reliable or not) and information.