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Articles / Applying to College / How can I select the right college?

Feb. 11, 2002

How can I select the right college?

Question: How can I select the right college? There are so many out there.

Don't be overwhelmed by the thousands of colleges and universities from which you can choose. Your goal should be to limit your search by applying certain restrictions.


For example, ask yourself how far from home you want to be. Let's say you're willing to go to college no farther than three hours (by car) from your home. You can average about 50 miles per hour when traveling by car, taking into consideration rest and food stops and local traffic situations. That means you could consider schools within a 150-mile radius of where you live.

Get a map of your part of the country, check the mileage scale on the map, and cut a piece of string equal to 150 map miles. Connect one end of the string to a pin and the other to a pencil or marker.

Put the pin on the map where you live, pull the string out straight, annd draw a circle. Now all you have to do is find out what colleges and universities exist inside the circle. A good source for this information is the big ARCO college guide book. Schools are profiled by state and there is a map for each state showing where all the colleges and universities are located.

Other decision points come from selecting between public or private, large or small, urban or suburban, coed or single sex, liberal arts or pre-professional emphasis, warm-weather or temperate location, prestige reputation or lesser-well-known, high cost/good financial aid or lower cost/lower aid, and so forth. Going through this selection process will narrow the field from thousands to a manageable handful very quickly.

You should be able to identify at least six candidate schools by the end of your junior year in high school. I refer to this list as the hard half-dozen. These are the schools that have met your selection restrictions, the ones you want to visit during the summer before your senior year. Your visits can narrow down even this short list. Now, that was easy, wasn

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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