Selecting a college is a personal process, but certain factors weigh in on every student's journey. To find your best fit, use our criteria to take stock of your needs and wants, and reveal how your picks compare with national averages.
Are you seeking an associate or a bachelor's? Program length depends on what type of degree you want to attain. You can choose from:
2-Year vs. 4-Year1
|Number of Institutions|
If you'd prefer to stay at the same place for undergrad and grad school, consider enrolling at a research university. Here's how those institutions compare to liberal arts colleges.
Research University vs. Liberal Arts College
|Liberal Arts College||Research University|
|Private||Private & Public|
|One College/Campus||Multiple Colleges/Campuses|
|Undergraduate Programs||Undergraduate & Graduate Programs|
|Multidisciplinary Studies||Focused, Professional Programs|
|Small Student-to-Faculty Ratio||Large Lecture Halls|
Do you have a niche talent or skill? Would you like your peers to share your interests or values? Consider a specialized school.
- Historically Black Colleges & Universities
Tallying up the number of students and faculty (and the student-to-faculty ratio) can give you a feel for a school's culture and class sizes.
- Average: 6,4452
- Small: <5,000
- Medium: 5,000-15,000
- Large: 15,000-30,000
- Huge: >30,000
|Total Enrolled: 19,645,918|
|1.5 Million Faculty Nationwide|
|Average Student-to-Faculty Ratio||14:1|
Where Is It?
Do you wish to study online? If not, how far from home do you want to be? How do you feel about living on campus? Off campus, would you rather be in a city or a rural area?
- On-Campus: 65.5%
- Online: 14.0%
- Hybrid: 20.5%
Median Distance from Home7
|All Institutions||13 miles|
|Public 2-Year||8 miles|
|Public 4-Year||18 miles|
|Private Nonprofit||46 miles|
|Number of Colleges by State|
On-Campus vs. Off-Campus9
|Students Living On Campus|
|Average City Population|
|Suburban||25,000 – 200,000|
It's crucial to verify an institution's reputation. Regionally accredited schools meet the gold standard of academic quality, so you can feel confident in your education.
Regional Accrediting Bodies11
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
So what's everyone else studying?
Most Popular Majors12
|Area of Study||Percentage of Degrees Conferred|
|Social Sciences & History||8%|
|Biological & Biomedical Sciences||6%|
|Communication & Journalism||5%|
|Visual & Performing Arts||4%|
|Computer & Information Sciences||4%|
Not sure what you want to study? Good news: It's common for first-year students to be undecided. Even after declaring a major, you might change your mind.
Students Who Change Majors13
|2-Year Program||4-Year Program|
Depending on your program, you could earn credits in another country.
- 1.8% of Undergrads
- 55.7% in Europe
Don't forget about your interests outside of academics! Look for clubs and organizations that focus on:
- Arts & Crafts
- Community & Volunteerism
- Competitive Teams
- Culture and Language
- Greek Life
- Media & Technology
- Performance Art
- Social Activism
- Sports & Recreation
Affordability should not be ignored, but keep in mind that a program's sticker price does not necessarily equal its out-of-pocket cost.
86% of Students Receive Aid
Types to Take Advantage of:
- Direct Loans (Subsidized, Unsubsidized)
- PLUS Loans
- Perkins Loans
- Work-Study Jobs
- Amount: $36,900
- Loan Interest Rate: 2.75%
- Monthly Loan Payment: $433
Will I Get Hired?
Higher education fosters personal and intellectual growth. Higher ed should help you thrive professionally, too. Given the cost of a degree, make sure to set yourself up for a high return on investment.
Average Graduation Rate18
|All 4-Year Institutions||62%|
Job Status (Within 6 Months of Graduation)19
Employment Rate (Ages 25-34)20
|High School Graduates||74%|
|Bachelor's Degree or Higher||87%|
Weekly Earnings (Ages 25+)21
|High School Graduates||$789|
|Bachelor's Degree or Higher||$1,416|
Highest Paying Jobs By Major (Early Career Pay)22
|Electrical Engineering & Computer Science||$101,200|
|Physician Assistant Studies||$92,900|
|Nuclear Engineering Technology||$78,200|
4Total Fall Enrollment in Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions, by Attendance Status, Sex of Student, and Control of Institution: Selected Years, 1947 Through 2029, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019
6Number and Percentage of Students Enrolled in Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions, by Distance Education Participation, Location of Student, Level of Enrollment, and Control and Level of Institution: Fall 2017 and Fall 2018, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019
Time to Prioritize
It's important to consider all these characteristics, but they are not necessarily of equal value. Spend time figuring out which qualities mean the most to you, whether they are size, location, or cost. Compare and contrast the schools on your list, both when you apply and when accepting an admission offer. Soon enough, you'll be on your way!
Featured Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images
Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.