Choosing A College

By Ted Spencer, Former Dean of Admission, University of Michigan

When you begin thinking about attending college, there are several things you should consider. You must weigh the benefits of attending college, and also understand the academic preparation needed to get into your first choice college. Then you should identify the characteristics that are most important to you in attempting to narrow your college choice list.  

The obvious first question is: ”How do you determine which colleges have the most desirable characteristics?” The five best factors that I’ve heard repeated most often are:

  1. Academic Reputation

  2. The Admission Process  

  3. Financial Aid

  4. Social Life

  5. Career Opportunities

Ted Spencer
Former Dean of Admissions
University of Michigan

Each of these characteristics is important to helping you make the right college choice and the best way to find the information is to visit the college campus. You might also find answers on their website or in publications. Here are some specifics on what to look for: 

Academic reputation includes such things as availability of classes, courses and majors that will allow you to graduate in four to five years in the major of your choice. Academic reputation also includes the graduation rates of all students.  

The admissions process will require that you gather information from sources like College Outreach USA, your high school counselors, college web pages and a variety of other sources about “How do you get in?” and “What are the requirements for admission?” 

The financial aid process will address “What does it cost to attend the colleges you choose?” You should also gather information on the availability of scholarships. 

Social life should include everything from location to “Can I fit in?” and “What is there to do when I am not in class?” 

Career opportunities should address “Will the degree that I worked so hard to attain, prepare me for a career?” and “Can I get a job or can I get admitted to a top graduate or professional school?” 

Finally, I recommend that every student work as hard as possible to take the type of courses that will prepare them for college. Research shows that one of the most important predictors of college success is the rigor of the high school curriculum. Therefore, working hard in high school now will prepare you for the college search process later on.