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What to Consider When Researching Your Schools

The United States has more than 5,000 institutions for higher education and the process of choosing the right school can be overwhelming for prospective students. Here are things you may consider.
By GPA Admin

What to Consider When Researching Your Schools

Academic Factors

Academically, degree accreditation and recognition is very important particularly for students who plan to move on to graduate degrees or use their earned U.S. degrees for work in other countries.  This is because in the U.S., there are no legal requirements that institutions must be accredited and where institutions are accredited, they do not have to follow any particular form of accreditation.  


Another academic consideration is the major, which is the field of study a student wants to specialize in.  By identifying a major, a degree objective, and an area of expertise within that field (for example Music with a focus on Ethnomusicology), a student can come up with a shorter list of schools.  

Academic Emphasis

The academic emphasis within each institution may be different either centering on a professional education, research-based education or a liberal arts education.  Liberal arts schools often have an emphasis on teaching and on student-professor class interaction while schools with an emphasis on professional education usually concentrate on specific fields and may not be as flexible in course choices.  On the other hand, research-based institutions, often dominated by graduate students, tend to have highly accomplished world-renowned professors as well as state-of-the-art facilities.  

Costs                                                                                                            Related Articles: Calculating Cost of College

A student must know realistically what is financially available for the full cost of tuition, living expenses, books and supplies, etc. for the duration of the degree program, factoring in that tuition fees rise every year in the U.S.  Most institutions offer on-campus dormitory style housing.  If a student is considering on-campus housing, he or she can choose single occupancy rooms or shared suites with one or more roommates. Read more on housing


The U.S. is a large country where every region offers vastly different climates and where urban and rural areas offer very different atmospheres.  Larger cities will have many restaurants, entertainment spots, museums, shopping, etc. whereas a rural town will be more quiet and college-centered.  In considering location, students might also want to choose areas that accommodate their areas of study.  For example, a student majoring in Fine Arts might want to study in an urban setting such as New York City where art museums and special exhibitions are easily accessible. 

College Environment

The social life within a school is greatly impacted by the activities offered (sports, social, cultural, etc.) as well as by the number of students living on campus.  Commuter schools (students live off-campus) or schools where the majority of the students live off-campus will probably have very little activity during the weekends and little opportunity for socializing.  As for international student representation, a school may have as few as seven international students or as many as 7,000.  Whereas an international student may be regarded as special in a school with few international students, a school with a larger international student population will likely have an international student administration offering services, networking activities and support.

Sports & Student Clubs

As for extra-curricular activities such as sports, dramatic productions, academic clubs, etc., students’ knowing which schools offer activities catering to their interests can help them determine the college environment they can look forward to and help narrow down their choices.  Do note though that students can also start their own clubs and activities if one catering to their interest is not yet available in their school.

School Rankings

Last but not least to consider is school rankings. It is important to know that schools in the U.S. do not have an official ranking system and that any current ranking is subjective and not necessarily based on academic standards or reputation.  While some established rankings may be used as a basis for a search, finding the “best” school can best be determined by considering the factors as discussed in this article.

To begin a search, a student can look into the Golden Path Guide to Schools, or consult other sites such as U.S. News or Collegeboard.  Additionally, students can also consult with a Golden Path Academics advisor to help narrow down their choices.

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