Guide to Choosing a University

There are over 3000 colleges and universities in North America. This is a big list to consider, but we're going to help you come up with a short list of schools to choose from. Please follow the steps below to help you choose the best university for you.

Step 1

Expand your choices

First, let's make sure that you haven't missed some good opportunities. There may be a few more universities that would be a great match for you, but you haven't considered. Maybe the perfect university (for you) is out there, but you haven't even heard of it yet. To expand your list of schools, check out the following sites. They will help you identify universities across North America that have the programs you are interested in:

To get the look and feel of different North American universities visit CampusTours for non-promotional videos of campus tours.

Step 2

Get your Main Factors in order

When selecting a university, you're going to have to balance and weigh the things that are important to you. Listed below are some Main Factors. Take a few minutes to review this list. Ignore any items that are not important to you. Is it complete? Add anything to your important considerations list that will strongly affect your decision. Use the Additional Considerations list for ideas.

  1. Admission Requirements
  2. Location
  3. Cost
  4. Financial Aid Availability
  5. Strength of Academic Program
  6. Social
  7. Student Testimonials
  8. Religion
  9. Additional Considerations
  1. Admission Requirements

    One of the main questions you may be asking yourself is: How hard is it to get in? Each university differs in its selectivity of students, so be sure to research each school's admission requirements.
    • Do you have the relevant courses (prerequisites) needed for the program you are interested in?
      e.g. a high level English course
    • Does your GPA, SAT/ACT scores meet the admission requirements?
    • Are there extra requirements? For example, do you need a portfolio of your work or do you need to go in for a personal interview?
    The answers to these questions can be found on the university's websites, from your guidance counselor, or from the university's admission representatives.
  2. Location

    How close do you want to be to your family? Moving away helps you develop your independence, but there will be times when you will want to, or have to, go home. Sometimes you need help, and family is often the first place you will look. One idea is to choose a university that is 1-6 hours away. Close enough for visits, but not too close. Also, you may prefer one geographical location more than another. For example, would you really like to be some place warm, close to the mountains, or on the coast?
  3. Cost

    This is probably one of your biggest concerns. When you calculate the cost of a year of university don't forget to include the following:
    • Tuition
    • Quality of program (some universities cost more, but are worth it)
    • Room and Board (e.g. cost of renting an apartment, house, or a university based residence)
    • Transportation (e.g. bus fare, car- which would include insurance, parking pass, gas, and maintenance)
    • Social activities (how much money do you need for fun activities?)
    • Cost of Living adjustment (The price of goods and services are different from one city to the next.)
  4. Financial Aid Availability

    University is very expensive and not all families can provide total support for their children's academic endeavors. Students will often have to get full time summer jobs and part-time jobs during the school year to meet the costs of university. It is important to know what types of financial aid are available to you.
    Each university offers a variety of different programs to assist students in the cost of university life. Entrance scholarships and/or bursaries are offered at nearly every university, but it's important to find out the requirements and availability in order to determine which school can best accommodate your academic and financial needs. Often scholarships are based on academic achievement, financial need, athletics, or extracurricular involvement (e.g. volunteering for community organizations). Additionally, many universities offer work study or cooperative education programs that gives students the opportunity to work on campus in their field of interest, and at the same time give them the flexibility they need with their busy school schedule.
    Finally, each state and/or province will have different programs available to assist with financial loans, these may be offered within the school, the government, or the bank. In the United States the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines a student's need for financial assistance. By completing an FAFSA application an individual can be eligible for Pell Grants or Stafford loans.
    Federal Pell Grants are based on an individual's financial need. Financial need is determined by the difference between the cost of college attendance and the expected family contribution. These grants are like gifts from the government that range from $400-$4,000. A loan unlike a grant must be repaid.
    Federal Stafford Loans are low cost loans sponsored by the U.S. government. There are two types of Stafford loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based primarily on financial need. The government will pay the interest that accumulates while in school and during a grace period of six months.
    Unsubsidized loans are available to everyone; however, the borrower must pay interest throughout schooling. The government determines the amount of money the student may borrow, for example in sophomore year Stafford loans may range from $2,625 to $6,625. There are three main requirements to be eligible for a Stafford loan: 1) you must be a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen; 2) you must be attending an approved college on a part-time or full-time basis and are working towards a degree or certificate; and 3) you must maintain satisfactory academic progress. For more information and to complete an on line application, visit the FAFSA Internet site at
  5. Strength of Academic Program

    The programs within a university will vary in quality. Some may be strong technical schools with, at best, average arts programs. The opposite may be true of other schools. Strength of Academic Program will influence how much you learn, how well equipped you'll be for your career, and how many offers you'll get upon graduation. Try to find out the duration of the academic program. This may be an important consideration if you are eager to get into the working world. Often, programs differ in class size as well. For example one may find smaller classes more conductive to learning. Finally, some people may chose to major in more than one subject, yet not all schools may offer the combination you are interested in.
  6. Social

    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Actually, the social environment can be an important consideration when choosing a school. You will learn nearly as much out of class as you will in class- about leadership, yourself, and how the world works. Socially, what's important to you? For example, the male/female ratio may be important if you are looking to meet that 'special someone'. The variety and strength of campus organizations and sports may also be an important deciding factor. Word of caution: Avoid going to a party school. It will be fun, but the quality of education won't be as good. You'll be able to skate by without too much effort, but when it comes time to interview and get that first job, you'll be in some trouble. Finally, do not choose a school based only on 'where your friends are going'. While it may seem a lot less intimidating leaving home for the first time with your friends there to support you, ultimately you have to lead your own life and make your decisions based on what is best for you.
  7. Student Testimonials

    Get the scoop from people who have been there. The best thing to do is to look for comments on topics that are important to you. For example, if it's very important to you to have small classes, and people complain that the classes are too large, then this should be a warning. Anything that starts out like this: I had this one professor is pretty much useless. Everyone will have a different university experience, even at the same school. While one person may really dislike a class, program, professor, or policy, you may love it. So ask around, and keep an open mind. Try going on a tour of your top universities, and don't be afraid to ask random students questions.
  8. Religion
    Many schools are affiliated with various churches, synagogues, mosques etc. If you ask your religious advisor (e.g. minister) he/she can give you a list of schools that recognize the importance of your religious beliefs. Many schools have campus clubs and organizations with religious affiliations. Also, visit to attain a list of ministries in the city where the university is located.
  9. Additional Considerations

    • Academic competition level among students
    • Academic requirements for graduation
    • Academic support programs (e.g. programs designed for those with special learning needs)
    • Admissions criteria (e.g. percent of applicants admitted)
    • Advanced placement credit given
    • Affiliation of the college or university (e.g. affiliation with a religious institution)
    • Application deadline
    • Athletics facilities
    • Backgrounds of other students/diversity
    • Climate
    • Consortia opportunities (opportunity to take classes at neighboring universities)
    • Cooperative work-study programs
    • Counseling services available (academic and psychological)
    • Course offerings (e.g. the variety of course offered in one's program of interest)
    • Cultural opportunities on and off campus
    • Disability consciousness (e.g. wheelchair accessibility)
    • Enrollment (total number of students)
    • Environment (e.g. appearance of the campus)
    • Extracurricular offerings (e.g. student clubs)
    • Faculty (professors and instructors: availability, percent holding doctorates)
    • Grading system
    • Housing options (e.g. proximity to the campus and affordability)
    • International baccalaureate credit (opportunities to study abroad)
    • Internship opportunities
    • Library facilities
    • Placement record (percentage of graduate employment)
    • Religious organizations/activities
    • Research facilities and opportunities
    • Safety (crime level)
    • School Spirit
    • Student/faculty ratio
    • Sports (varsity and intramural)
    • Transfer possibilities
    • Transportation (bus service, airport nearby)
Step 3

Reduce your choices

Now that you have your list of Main Factors set, compare all of the schools on your list based on these. From the list of schools that you're considering, eliminate the less appealing ones until your have a list of 3 to 7 universities that are acceptable.

Step 4


Now give yourself the freedom to choose by applying to all of these schools. A very convenient and powerful way to do this is online.