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There's a lot to consider when you and your child are deciding on which colleges they should apply to. Does the college offer the major your child's most interested in? What's the campus culture like? How far is it from home? How much does it cost?

Helping your child find a college that fits them well doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. You can easily narrow down the choices by asking your child a few simple questions and finding out what's important to them.

Fast Facts

  • Factors to consider when choosing a college include location, size, extracurricular activities, and net price.
  • Financial aid helps many students pay far less than a college's advertised tuition.
  • Students can save money by starting out at a community college, then transferring to a four-year school to complete their bachelor's degree.
  • Visiting a college is a great way for students to find out a lot about a school. Many colleges offer online tours on their website, which is a good alternative if traveling isn't an option.

What's Your Child Looking For?

Even if a school has a great reputation, it may not be the best fit for your child. It's important to take into account what they're looking for in a school—after all, they'll be spending about four years on campus.

  • Does your child want to go to a large school or a small school?
  • Do they want to be in a rural, urban, or suburban area?
  • Do they want to stay close to home, or explore a new area?
  • What are the majors that interest them?

Getting the answers to these questions is a good first step to finding a college where your child will thrive.

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College Search Step by Step
5 Steps to Creating a College List
College Search

Make a College List

The College Search tool on BigFuture takes your child's answers to the questions above, along with their college entrance exam scores, extracurricular interests, and other factors, and provides a list of schools that best match the criteria.

Visit BigFuture's College Search

Depending on your child’s interests, there may be a lot of schools that might be a good all-around fit. You can get more information on individual college's websites to help your child decide what schools should be on their list.

If you're feeling overwhelmed about where to start, your child can set up some time with their school counselor to kick things off.

Mix It Up

It's a good idea for students to apply to a range of schools: those they’re confident they’ll get in to based on their SAT or ACT scores; those where they have a good shot at being admitted; and those they really like but think are out of reach. We refer to those as academic safety, fit, and reach schools, respectively.

Applying to a variety of colleges means your child will most likely get in to at least one school, and they may be pleasantly surprised to see that they get in to their reach school. We recommend applying to a balanced list of six schools, including a mix of safety, fit, and reach.

Narrow It Down

If the number of colleges on the list is more than your child can reasonably apply to, they should consider visiting some of the schools or talking to students who currently go there to get a better sense of what the campuses are like.

They can also start looking at factors that are less important to them but still relevant, like the school’s athletic program or available housing options. Anything that can get the list of colleges down to a manageable number.

Don't Rule Out Community Colleges

There are several advantages to your child attending a two-year community college before moving on to a four-year institution to complete their degree.

  • Convenient location
  • Lower cost
  • Smaller classes

Community colleges generally accept a high percentage of students who apply, so if your child finds one they like, it should definitely go on their list.

Read More About It
For Students: How to Find a College That Fits You
For Students: Community College: FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions