Check Graduation Rates
Once you have a list of colleges that interest you, I recommend finding out what their graduation rates are. Sadly, the four year college graduation rate in the U.S. is 37%. For state colleges it is 31%. Since the main goal of college is receiving a degree, it is important to look at how well the college meets that goal before you commit to paying large amounts of money to them. I rarely put a college on a student’s list unless it has a 4 year graduation rate of 70% and you might want to consider doing the same. For me it is a score card about how well the college is performing.
You can find college graduation rates on http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/ along with other statistical information that can be helpful.
After that look at the basics: geographic areas, size, location, cost, majors, sports, religious orientation, activities available, difficulty of admission, availability of research opportunities or internships etc.
Then look the school’s reputation. Is it competitive or cooperative, stressful or a party school, sports oriented or artsy, liberal or conservative, and do you feel comfortable in that environment?
Teaching or Research Institutions
Is the college a research institution or do they focus on teaching undergraduates? Which would be a better fit for you? Does having professor interactions make learning more meaningful or can you learn well in lectures and reading the textbooks?
Majors or Undecided
If you know a major that you want to pursue, what are the department’s requirements? Do you like their course offerings? Are the professors well rated on www.ratemyprofessors.com?
College’s Core Curriculum
Most colleges have a core curriculum that you will need to take in order to graduate. Do you feel confident that you could fulfill that requirement, or should you find a school with a less restrictive core curriculum?
Can You Graduate in 4 Years?
How many courses will you need to take each semester to graduate? Many engineering degrees typically take five years, as do other majors. Do students in their major generally graduate in 4 years, or is scheduling such that it takes five years. Can you get credit for classes that you have already taken? For most colleges one needs to take five classes per semester, but some only require four per semester. Know what you are committing to?
Where Does the School Rank as far as Student Engagement?
Studies have shown that student engagement can be key to success in college and afterwards. Does the college offer a small freshman seminar to integrate students effectively into what is expected? Do they expect higher level thinking and problems solving? Are professors available to meet with and engage with undergraduate students, this makes a real difference to many students?
How easy is it to study abroad if you want to do it?
What are the campus traditions and do they sound exciting to you?
Is the school affordable?
Is the college generous with financial and/or merit aid?