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High School

5 Tips on How to Pick a College That’s Right for You

Congratulations on getting into college! Now comes the hard part — choosing the best school to attend for the next two to four years of your life. Here’s some advice to help you pick the best fit for you. Remember that there really is no bad choice, and don’t second-guess yourself!

Research, research, research!

Now is definitely the time to do lots of research on everything about each of your schools, from academics to party culture to the type of food being served in the dining halls. Take ranking websites with a grain of salt, though, since every site has its own methodology for placements, and most of them primarily reflect the school’s prestige over other factors. 


Use this time to take a deeper look into the types of classes you’ll be taking at each school. This isn’t restricted to your major, either — what kind of GE offerings are there? Are there any required freshman seminars or writing classes? What does the surrounding environment look like (i.e. big city vs. college town vs. rural area)? How big is Greek life on campus? What do meal plans look like? How about residential life? Aside from this, be sure to milk your college friends for information, and check out social media (student organization pages, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook meme groups, etc.) to get an idea of the school’s culture. Think hard about what you want out of your college experience, and how each of your schools will meet these priorities — pro/con lists are very effective here.


Since my high school class (class of 2020) couldn’t tour colleges due to the pandemic, a friend of mine created this HUGE college info doc based on testimonies from students at over 50 colleges, which I hope will help you as much as it helped us :)

Fit > College reputation

Screw college reputation- the only thing that matters is whether it’s the best school for you. According to the Wall Street Journal, a study of over 30,000 college graduates found that the selectivity of their alma maters had little correlation with their postgraduate success. Ultimately, student outcomes are a better measure of a university’s value — what you do in school matters more than where you go, and you’re going to be successful in life whether you attend your “easiest” or “toughest” college.

School size

A common talking point about college is how small schools are great because of their intimate class sizes and how you can get more individual attention from your teachers. While that’s certainly true, be sure to consider the flip side as well — attending a larger school often means having access to a wider range of opportunities (majors, student organizations, etc.) to suit your academic and extracurricular interests. At the end of the day, it all depends on what sort of school environment fits your personality and needs. 


Consider that while public universities have a lower “sticker price” of tuition than private schools, private schools are much more generous with scholarships and grants (because that’s what happens when you have a bunch of old rich white dudes financing your endowment). To put this in perspective, my two top school options last year were UCSC and a private university on the East Coast. The private school ended up giving me nearly half off tuition and fees in the form of scholarships and grants, to the point that it was comparable to tuition at UCSC. 


However, there are often more costs to consider other than the final dollar amount on your tuition letter. Since schools have a variety of dorm and meal plans, you might eventually pick one that is a different price than the estimate they give you. If you’re looking at living off-campus, what is the cost of living like in the area? In this case, don’t forget about transportation expenses, like paying for a car or public transit. What about enrolling in an out-of-state school? Paying for flight tickets and other travel costs you may incur as you travel to and from home during school breaks are expensive, and add up quickly.

Another piece of advice that I wasn’t aware of until I had already entered college was that it is possible to renegotiate your financial aid offer for a better aid package. According to Newsweek, colleges accept appeals based on financial need, such as in the case that a parent loses a job, or merit, in which you can use better aid offers from comparable institutions as leverage and emphasize how a further discount on tuition would allow you to contribute to the school.

Obligatory reminder that a four-year university isn’t always the answer!

Contrary to what society tells us, graduating from a four-year university right out of high school isn’t the only way to gain life skills and be successful in life. You can always take time to travel, attend trade school, or go straight into the workforce. Or perhaps you’d like to attend a community college to save money and get some of your GE requirements out of the way. And if you change your mind at some point, it’s never too late to start!

Alison Sun (she/her/hers) is a second-year Computer Science major (for now) at UCSC who tries her best to be a bright and sunny presence to those around her every day. When she's not toiling over Python, you can find her bullet journaling, rereading her favorite romance novels, or dancing to Twice's "Fancy" at her desk. If you're reading this, she would like to remind you to go drink some water.
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