Your College List: Looking Beyond the Big Picture

Whether you are a senior desperately trying to whittle down your college list or an underclassman just beginning the search, it can be overwhelming attempting to hone in on the schools that might be the best fit for you. Indeed, narrowing via big picture facets such as setting or size only gets you so far. You must truly dig deeper and investigate some important specifics.

Here are some additional factors to consider as you try and pinpoint your top picks:

Graduation or Core Requirements

Sure, when researching colleges you likely make a point of checking whether or not a school offers any of the majors you might want to pursue. However, you shouldn’t stop there. As you casually flip through a course catalogue, look up graduation and/or core requirements as well. You’ll quickly begin to notice that some colleges are more stringent than other when it comes to requirements. Will you mind a rigid, prescribed curriculum? Do you like the idea of having to sample from different disciplines? Or are you drawn to schools that provide complete academic freedom? There’s no right or wrong answer, just what works best with your intellectual needs and desires.

Academic Calendar

You might be wondering why we listed the academic calendar as a potential factor. There’s a simple explanation; not all colleges follow the traditional two semester plan. Yes, some universities operate on a trimester, others a quarter system. Still other colleges might offer a block plan or mandate intersession classes. Each of these systems comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, while a semester clearly allows you to devote more time to a particular course, a quarter system offers you the opportunity to take more classes. Moreover, depending on the type of calendar followed/chosen, a university might start earlier in the year or end later. And this can possibly have bearing on internships, summer jobs and study abroad plans.

Hard Data

The vital stats of the schools you’re considering are important. However, we’re not talking about the figures to which you might initially gravitate – ranking, tuition, etc. While those certainly hold some importance, the data you should be researching are graduation rates, retention rates and employment within six months of graduation. These numbers truly reveal the level of happiness and success of students at a particular institution.


If you’re planning on attending a traditional four-year college, there’s a strong likelihood you will be residing on (or at least near) campus. Therefore, you want to assess how livable said campus will be. Are there dining halls close to all of the dorms? Or will you have to walk a minimum of 15 minutes for food? Similarly, will your residence be situated near your classes? Is parking readily available? Are freshmen even allowed to have cars on campus? While these particulars might not necessarily be deal-breakers, you want to do your best to gauge what your quality of life might be at a certain school.


When it comes to the college search, weather is one facet that’s easy to overlook. After all, you’re more likely concerned about factors such as school size, location, cost, etc. And while those should certainly have a  larger impact on your decision, weather is actually still an important consideration. Indeed, it’s easy to forget the effect that weather has on our outlook and mood. If the mere thought of rain starts triggering a mild depression, perhaps you should avoid the Pacific Northwest. If you get excited even hearing a potential forecast for snow, well then you might want to look at colleges in New England.

Finding colleges to which you want to apply can be a time consuming (and potentially trying) experience. As you embark on this long journey, it’s important to remember that dream schools will likely be found in the details.

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