Type & Size
One of the most noticeable aspects when choosing between colleges is the type and size of the institution. On a simplistic level most American colleges fall into two buckets — research universities and liberal arts colleges. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, research universities often have stronger reputations and branding, a larger undergraduate and graduate student-body, alongside a vast range of facilities and specialized majors. Liberal arts colleges are generally much smaller classes and do not have many graduate programs; however, this allows for a much more teaching focussed experience with greater access to professors. In research universities for larger classes, often graduate students will take up teaching responsibilities.
Mounting college debt is becoming a far more prominent issue on the student psyche. Therefore, looking into the financial assistance offered by individual colleges can be a great way to distinguish between college applications. Colleges offer different types of aid, some offer scholarships based on factors such as academics, sporting prowess, or other special talents. Some colleges, more often private and liberal arts colleges, do not offer any merit scholarships but instead assistance based on financial need. Colleges with need based financial aid can be separated into ‘need-blind’ and ‘need-aware,’ where the latter considers in the application the amount of financial assistance required. It is important to consider how to exploit the benefits of both systems to find your ideal college choices.
Colleges all have varying specialties, programs, or academic strengths. Some have special ties with universities abroad meaning if foreign and cultural immersion is something important in your college choices that could be a consideration. Each college’s academic departments also vary in their strengths and weaknesses so try and ensure that you select institutions that align with your academic interests. Outside of classes, some colleges may also have clubs or extracurricular activities that compliment your interests and you may want to participate in.