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College Fit – How To Evaluate Colleges + Choosing College Worksheet

Choosing a college can feel overwhelming at the beginning and shifting from active duty to full-time school can be a culture shock. For many of us, the first question is, “Where do I even start?”

Here are some insights to support your transition from service to school. We will review different types of schools and provide the information you need to think through the choice of where to apply. 

group of college students at table

Evaluate College Options Based on Your Needs 

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for college. You will want to reflect on the range of needs you have then evaluate the school options against those needs.

Assuming you have already decided which degree type (i.e. community college vs. a four-year degree) is right for you, you should think about some critical factors as you think about what you need personally, educationally, financially, socially, and professionally for the best college experience for you. There are many questions to ask to determine what you need in a school, but consider a few of the most critical below:

  • What do I hope to study, and what schools are known for great undergraduate experiences in this field?
  • What do I hope to do professionally, and what programs are particularly suited for this path?
  • What kind of learning environment do I want (large vs. small class, access to professors, etc.)?
  • What kind of community (e.g. culture, values, student body size) and campus (rural vs. urban) do I want?
  • What extracurriculars and campus resources are important to me?
  • What are my financial constraints, and what implications does this have for school cost?
  • Do I have geographic constraints or preferences?

Starting with these questions will help you refine your thinking about what you want in the abstract, then it’s time to start evaluating some of your school options.

How to Evaluate 4-Year Colleges

What is the actual cost for attendance? Often you won’t find out exactly how much you’ll actually pay until you are admitted, but you should be able to find a ballpark figure. The actual price for attendance is sometimes less than the sticker price. 

Does the university participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program? If so, how much do they offer? The Yellow Ribbon Program allows for colleges and the VA to each give matching amounts of funding towards your educational expenses on top of your GI Bill, though only for those who are eligible for 100% coverage under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. 

What is the reputation of the institution? Find out how well established the programs you’re interested in are. Check online and see what former and current students say about the college and the quality of education. 

What kinds of opportunities are there for students in your potential major or field of study? Say that you want to be a medical doctor; specifically, one who specializes in psychiatry. In that instance, you would check for internships and work-study opportunities with hospitals or clinical psychology labs. Work/volunteer opportunities will do three things: (a) internships or research within your field of study will give you an insider’s look into your potential future career; (b) networking opportunities will arise from close contact with working professionals; and (c) those jobs look great on a graduate school application or job resume. 

Decide for yourself what else you are looking for in a university, from location to the kind of housing that is provided. The above questions are just meant to help you get started.

group of college students throwing graduation caps in air

Choosing A College Worksheet 

We have pulled together some tools to help in your evaluation of colleges. As you research colleges, use this College Evaluation Worksheet to help determine if a college is a good fit for you. 

Here are some webinars we have hosted that all focus on selecting colleges: 

You could also download our comprehensive S2S Undergraduate Guidebook that delves deeper into evaluating and selecting a college that best suits your needs. 

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• Amanda Dobias

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