Top factors when choosing a college

College Decisions

By Ari Finkelstein

There are some 4,216 colleges in the United States today, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Needless to say, this can make choosing “the college that’s right for you” an incredibly daunting task.  Some factors definitely weigh in more heavily than others, though.  I’ve been asking any college students I meet—as well as recent graduates—their reasons for picking their schools, and I have compiled the following top-ten factors encountered, as well as 12 of my favorite first-hand testimonials.  Some students look at the price-tag, others the location, and some might just be swayed by the dorm food.  Read more, and see for yourself.

Top Ten Factors in School Decisions

1. Proximity to Home
2. Cost/Aid Package
3. Size
4. Beautiful Campus
5. Family Went There
6. School Spirit
7. Party Scene
8. Sports Teams
9. Research Opportunities
10. Urban Campus


“Bowdoin prints all its correspondence on milky white paper in this deeply sincere and pretty turn-of-the-century newspaper text with an antique smiling sun at the top of the page sort of like something you'd see on a shield or a throne, and what can I say, I am totally a sucker for that.  Also, the ocean is a stone's throw away.  And I figured I'd get no work done in a warmer, more hospitable climate.”



“I wanted to get away from home, and I was obsessed with the movie Good Will Hunting, which was filmed in Boston.  Also, it had great programs in the areas I wanted to study.  Finally, there was an amazing burrito joint on campus.  No lie!”


Boston University

“I actually ended up at the wrong college.  I saw so many different schools in a one week visit to the east coast (I think we visited between 10-15 schools) that the one I selected wasn't even the one I thought I was choosing.  I remember thinking 'the school' with the train running right through campus was a little too urban for me and dreary — it poured that day.  I had convinced myself that said image belonged to McGill in Montreal.  I showed up for orientation and was like "what the fuck?".  I ended up LOVING school. Lucky mistake I reckon.


George Washington University

“It was a combination of the women, the pre-wrapped sandwiches they sold in the student market, and a really, really pretty admissions packet.”



“I chose Colorado basically because it had the coolest looking campus, and because it was cooler than Iowa or Minnesota.  I was initially attracted to it just because of the pictures on a poster-board at a College fair!”

-- Nick

University of Pennsylvania

“My visit was definitely a big factor — I visited in the middle of a heat wave in April and it was literally 100 degrees.  Everyone was outside because none of the dorms had air conditioning yet and the heat in there was unbearable.  There were people everywhere!!  It was really upbeat and energetic, and that visit basically cemented my decision to go there.”



“I decided I wanted to stay fairly close to home, so it was pretty much a choice between KU and K-State. For some odd reason I always liked K-State better when I was younger ( I think it's because the brother I liked more was super into it and the other one was a KU fan). But when it came time to actually apply to colleges and people were talking about things around school, I realized that more than half my graduating class was going to KU... and since I didn't really enjoy being around a lot of them the first time I went through high school, I wasn't about to do it all over again but on a bigger campus and with alcohol. So my choice was pretty much made that day.”


Hunter College

“I decided to opt for Hunter College for two reasons.
1) There was no view of the sea to distract me.
2) I was told it was the best place to NOT make any friends. 
Being the misanthropic idealist that I was, I mailed out applications – hoping admissions at Hunter would overlook my inferior math skills and favor my creative potential.  Four years to the day, I am concluding my chapter at Hunter College as an English Major and will be applying to MFA programs shortly!  However, during my stretch here, I’ve learned that  the Manhattan skyline can be even more distracting than the ocean; and  I've made friends, despite being a self- confirmed ‘party pooper.’ But such is life.”

-- Gloria

Johns Hopkins

“I chose Hopkins because I wanted to be in a city. I’m from a city; I’m originally from Manhattan, so being in an urban environment was actually incredibly important to me.  And Baltimore is a smaller city, but I love it here, and it’s actually a really nice thing to have a campus but to also be in an urban environment.”

-- Julia   

University of Nevada

“It was free, it was away from home, and it was better than UNLV.  Money was a big issue for me.  I want to collect all my debt in grad school, not undergrad.”



“Senior year of high school, I applied to 11 schools, including lots of the fancy big-name ones on the East Coast. I got into all of them, with 2 waitlists. Then suddenly I realized they had SNOW over there. Snow? Growing up in Southern California, I grew up with the philosophy that snow is something you go to, not something that comes to you. So it came down to Stanford or Berkeley. This was an agonizing, intense decision… Cal had been my first choice for about 2 years: I was enamored with the activism and gritty city feel. After lots of visits and talking to people, I eventually realized that Cal's political activism was a bit over-the-top, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In addition, Stanford's private school status allowed it to give more generous financial aid and opt out CA's Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action for public schools. Stanford thus had more socioeconomic and ethnic diversity than Cal, which appealed to me, coming from a predominantly white and upper-income suburb.”



“I thought that Jesuit universities would be more willing to offer scholarships to students who had already spent more time under their tutelage, and therefore applied to a number of Jesuit institutions (with the exception of Georgetown, because let's face it, they are about as Jesuit as Tom Cruise), and anywhere that had no application fee and no essay.  Despite the lack of girls, I had come to like the Jesuit teachers, counselors, and administrators I had come to know.  They reminded me of that single uncle who knows how to have a really good time at family parties, and keeps a well stocked bar; he's willing to give you advice when you need it, but he's also around to bail you out of jail when are arrested for not following it.  All of this, combined with the fact I wanted to be on either coast, led me to Fordham.  All in all, I think they got the last laugh as a bright-eyed kid from Ohio signed up for another four years with "New York's Jesuit University" and found himself in the Bronx the following Fall.”