By: Amber Fioritto D.P.M.

When it comes time to start looking at and narrowing down college choices, the decision can seem all too overwhelming, especially for a teenager.  There are so many factors that can be weighed and different perks and drawbacks that are associated with each college.  No matter what college you look at, you are always going to come across things you like and things you don’t like.  In addition, when you sit down to weigh out all the pros and cons, you may end up more confused than when you started. 


I can say from experience that there were many times when I felt overwhelmed in high school when the topic of choosing a college was brought up. Neither of my parents went to college, nor did any of my older siblings, so I had no idea who or what to ask about anything.  However, I eventually landed on a decision that I can honestly say I was very happy with and has left me with no regrets.  This is the reason I want to give the advice I followed when I was deciding on a college and hopefully, it will help others in their quest of finding the right University for them. I think it basically comes down to knowing yourself, know what colleges can offer you, and not overthinking it. Easier said than done, right!


I know at the age of 18, there aren’t many kids that can say they have a clear picture of what they want to be when they grow up. Hell, I know 40-year-olds that still don’t know what they want to do with their life.  However, I feel it’s important to address this issue sooner rather than later. I think it is crucial for kids/teens to start self-assessing and determining their goals at an early age. Once a student determines their “what and why”, they will not only have an easier job choosing a college, but this will also make for a well-rounded person that responds maturely to situations they are faced with. 


Here are a few examples of things you should be able to answer quickly about yourself which can help narrow down the type of colleges you should be looking at:


  • Do you know if you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between? If not, there are tests all over the internet to tell you.

  • What type of environment do you strive in (Do you like high-pressure environments or do you tend to do better when things are more laid back?)

  • What tends to discourage you and make you feel self-conscious?

  • Do you need a lot of hands on support or are you one that would rather learn things on your own? 

  • What are your passions in life? Is there a career that incorporates them? Start researching different career options and shadowing someone in that career that can serve as a mentor. You’ll be surprised at how much a good mentor can influence you.


Once you know these things about yourself, you should have more clarity when it comes to knowing which college “features” will be important to you.  Then you can begin narrowing schools down based on those.


By using the list below as is, or adding anything that you think is important in a college. Determine the top 3 most important features to you. If a school does not have 1 of your top 3, then you should not waste time looking further into it because you will just end up finding something else you like to add additional confusion to your decision.


These features include but are not limited to:


  1. Majors/Minors offered (If a school doesn’t have what you want….then you shouldn’t even look at it, but again, you won’t know what you want until you assess yourself.)

  2. Location (big city vs. small city, do you want to have a car in college or would you rather be at the mercy of other transportation?)

  3. Campus size (do you function better as a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pong?)

  4. Graduation rate (but ultimately this will come down to you as an individual). I think a better thing to look at would be freshmen retention rate (this may be a better direct relation to school environment).

  5. Jobs right out of college

  6. Overall tuition and scholarship offers (This was my number 1 driver during my decision. May seem superficial, but coming out of college and approaching grad school debt free is very helpful on your stress levels and may help you make clearer decisions post-college due to not feeling trapped with debt)

  7. Housing options (Do you want to be forced to live on campus for 2 years? Some schools make this mandatory)

  8. Campus life (is it a commuter college? Do they offer sororities/fraternities, What does an average college game day look like, etc.?)

  9. Extracurriculars/clubs/organizations offered (Do you want to be a part of rock climbing club, key club, volunteer regularly? The list goes on and on)


Finally, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by looking at TOO many colleges.  Once you know what you want, choose about 10 colleges and do an online search based on what you are looking for. After your research, make a decision to only visit 3. Ultimately, the 3 colleges will all be excellent choices since you did your research. After visiting, there should be 1 that gives you a “gut” feeling that should lead you into making the right decision and preventing you from nit-picking all the details. In the end, your college experience is going to be based on how much you put in, and how you react to situations.  You will not be doomed to failure because of the college you choose.  If you are going to be successful, it is only up to you!


Oh, and one more thing! Completely disregard the notion that “college is where you find yourself”.  I don’t know if you ever heard someone say that you can take a year of pre-requisites and then decide what want during year 2, but if you have, I wouldn’t listen to it. If you have no idea what you want to major in, then taking random classes isn’t going to help narrow that down.  It will just end up costing a lot of money and you may feel pressured to settle for something once your 1st year is done.  If you need to, take a year off to figure out what you want in life and use this year to start saving for college. 


Choosing a college is a big life decision, but it doesn’t have to be the end all be all. Your college experience is going to be determined by what you put into it.