How to Evaluate Different Criteria When Researching Colleges

St. Agnes Academy
It’s important for high school students to understand how to evaluate different criteria when researching colleges. Use our guide to help you make informed decisions.
Researching potential college options is a critical part of the college application and admissions process. It requires a substantial amount of time, effort, and dedication. And choosing the right college can test the resolve of even the most confident student.

There are several different criteria when researching colleges that students and their families should keep in mind when reviewing schools to apply to during their college search.

At St. Agnes, we encourage our students to carefully weigh their options when moving through the college application process. Let’s explore some of the essentials we recommend students and their families focus on when researching colleges and making decisions.

Why Consider Different Criteria When Researching Colleges?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting the right college fit. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly research all aspects of academic and student life at each institution.

Basing a college decision on only one factor or a narrow set of criteria can lead students down the wrong path and make choosing a college more difficult when the time comes.

For example, a school may excel in academics but fail to offer diverse extracurricular opportunities. Similarly, a school may offer a student’s desired activities or organizations but provide a less comprehensive academic experience or limited course offerings.

While it may not always be possible for students to attend a school that “checks all the boxes,” doing your due diligence and investing ample time in researching potential college options can help students narrow their focus to institutions that more closely align with their personal and academic goals.

Let’s explore some of the ways each factor can impact a student’s college experience.

Consideration #1: Location

One easy way students can narrow the field of potential colleges is by focusing only on institutions located in a specific city, state, or region. Some students may wish to apply only to local schools to remain close to home, while other students may be keen on branching out.

Within a given location, the size and atmosphere of the school may also affect a student’s decision-making process. For example, a student may prefer to attend a school located in a small town in their desired region rather than in a neighboring urban center. Or, a student may be only interested in attending college in the city rather than in a more traditional “college town.”

Location, in particular, is largely a matter of personal preference. Students will want to consider whether they’re comfortable traveling far from Houston or if they would prefer to remain in a familiar location during their college years.

Consideration #2: Academics

High-achieving high school students like those who attend St. Agnes will want to give particular consideration to their potential schools’ academics. If a student is applying to colleges with a particular course of study in mind, it is critical that they focus only on those colleges and universities that offer their desired major.

Even students who are considering entering college with undeclared majors must take into account a school’s academic offerings. Students can use school websites to review data points like graduation rates, job placement rates, class sizes, potential majors, and graduate school acceptance rates to get a sense of what the colleges offer.

Ivy League schools are well known for their academic excellence and may be a good fit for some students. But, there is no shortage of other private colleges across the county that can provide edifying academic programs across several different disciplines. 

Consideration #3: Extracurricular Opportunities 

Students looking to maximize the value of their college experience often wish to participate in extracurricular activities in their areas of interest. Participating in extracurriculars is a great way for students to dive into campus life, make friends, and forge professional connections.

Students can include their college extracurriculars on their professional resumes, as well as on graduate school applications, thus boosting their potential for post-graduate success. Some examples of popular college extracurriculars include: 

  • Drama clubs, improv troupes, and acapella groups
  • Speech and debate
  • Greek life 
  • Volunteer groups and activist organizations 
  • School newspaper 
  • Work-study programs and internships 
  • Intramural sports 

Not only can participating in extracurriculars enhance a student’s CV, but these extracurricular activities can help students find community with like-minded peers and offer much-needed opportunities for fun and relaxation.

Students who are particularly interested in a particular extracurricular will want to ensure the schools on their college list offer their desired activity or organization.

Consideration #4: Athletics

Athletics plays a major role in the college application process for many students. Some student-athletes may be asked to apply to particular institutions that have shown interest in their athletic performance.

For example, some student-athletes may be able to try out for their desired sport after securing admission to a given school, so it’s important to apply to schools that offer open tryouts for that particular sport.

Even students who do not wish to actively play a sport may still find athletics to be an integral part of campus life. Many prospective students actively seek out larger schools with high-profile sports teams because they enjoy the school spirit that is cultivated at university sporting events.

In some cases, students may be life-long fans of a given college team and desire to attend that school to play a more active role in supporting their team. 

Consideration #5: Financial Aid

The availability of financial aid can be an essential factor in the college decision process. Attending certain colleges can be a financial burden for some students and their families, and many prospective students will require financial aid packages to attend their desired school.

Most colleges and universities make a substantial amount of financial aid information available on their websites. Students can develop a relatively clear picture of whether or not a school’s aid offerings will be sufficient in order for them to attend. 

The federal government offers students several financial aid options such as loans, scholarships, and grants that can help offset costs. Many schools also offer their own scholarship programs that can offer further assistance to students who require it.

Some of these scholarship programs are aid-based, while others are merit-based. So, it’s important to carefully review the requirements to determine whether you are a good fit for aid.

St. Agnes: Fostering Student Success

With so many important factors to consider, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the college admissions process. If you are preparing to start researching colleges and would like some help evaluating different criteria when researching colleges, we are here to help!

The Student Success Center at St. Agnes would be happy to offer additional guidance and insight to support your research. Reach out today to get in touch, and we will be happy to support you throughout each step of making college choices.