Admissions

How to Compare Colleges and Find Your Target Schools

iStock

Maybe you’ve just started thinking about colleges. Or maybe you’ve already put together a list of potential schools that all look good for different reasons! How do you research and compare colleges to find the best fit for you?

Your College Wish List


First, it’s important to evaluate what’s truly important to YOU. Make a list of everything you want or need in terms of location, size of the student body, availability of scholarships, dorm options, clubs, activities and even food! As you consider your options, your best college choices will gradually begin to identify themselves. Learn more about fit here.

Finding College Information

These seven sources for information have become the standard for most college-bound students. Here’s how to use them.

1. College Websites, Brochures, Videos and Catalogs

College websites, videos, catalogs and brochures aren't exactly objective, but you’ll get a good picture of a school’s academic offerings and admission requirements. Look these materials over, but don’t make any decisions based solely on what you read or see.

2. Current Students

No one knows colleges and universities better than the students who currently attend them. Talk to real students when you go on college visits about what they like and don’t like about their schools. It doesn’t get any more direct and honest than this.

3. College Guides

The Princeton Review’s own Best Colleges is a great narrative guide based on real student quotes about their colleges (and you can always look at other guides for good second opinions!).

4. College Profiles

There’s a lot of help out there. Our Princeton Review college search helps you find and compare schools, based on criteria like location, size, majors, sports and admission test scores. Use our online college profiles to dig into useful information about tuition and financial aid, campus life, the student body and more.

5. College Rankings

Ranking lists provide an excellent starting point for researching different schools and can even introduce you to new ones. Our college ranking lists cover a range of topics that applicants might want to know about — academics, financial aid, campus amenities, the student body's political leanings, race/class interaction, LGBTQ community acceptance, social life and much more.

6. College Forums/Discussion Boards

Unfiltered feedback from all kinds of sources is exciting! Just remember to take the advice with a grain of salt, since you won't always know who is offering the feedback.

7. Your College Counselor

Conversations with your college counselor about what’s important to you will help guide your overall college search. When it comes time to apply, you’ll review the requirements together and strategize for your best application.

Tips for Making College Comparisons

1. Look back at your wish list. It's probably been growing continuously as you've become more and more aware of what is important to you in your college choice.

2. Try structuring your list in the form of a chart. A handy visual aid allows you to quickly see how different schools measure up. Check off colleges when they have characteristics you want.

3. It’s all about you. How much weight you give to a particular campus statistic, facility or feature depends on your unique goals and interests. Knowing that one college on your radar funds summer internships while another has a nationally-recognized student newspaper could help you decide.

4. See how you stack up. It's also important to look at each college's admissions standards and student body. Compare your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, class rank and high school courses to see if schools you are considering are a good academic fit. You can find the average numbers of the most recent incoming class in our college profiles.