How to Pick the Right College in 2013

It’s usually the most important two decisions you’ll make in the entire college process:

Deciding exactly where to apply… and how to pick the right college.

And — while there’s no shortage of information available to families here in 2013 — so many people still get it wrong!

Here’s what I mean by that… and how you can get it right.

Are you worrying about spreading the field between a bunch of schools, potentially setting yourself up for a scramble at the end, sorting through all the acceptance letters?

The truth is that’s what most people do. But right now, there are more spots available than students applying. Outside of elite and reach schools, most students have a very good shot of getting into roughly 70% of today’s colleges and universities. And, if well chosen, getting into a ‘safety school’ should be a lock.

Rather than try the buckshot approach, you can easily afford to be more selective with your applications.

That means a few things…

3 Steps for Picking the Right College in 2013:

1. Apply to schools especially in-line with your child’s interests.

A so-so school might have an exceptional writing program, or a world-class pre-med track. If your son or daughter has a possible career in mind, let that be your primary guide.

2. Pick the right region of the country.

Your child may or may not want to be in the same city they grew up in.  But it’s a great idea to determine what’s too close, and what’s too far, for your tastes.  Just the same, ask yourself how often you’ll most likely be visiting, and what those travel costs may add up to (over the course of 4 years.)

If you’re having trouble deciding between similar schools, even something as simple as figuring out optimal travel arrangements, costs and timing can make life much more pleasant (and affordable) over the next four years. (Picking a favorite region also can save money during college tours.)

3. Understand the (net) difference in price

Sure, most schools will be in the same ballpark – but aid packages and extras can differ widely. Your safety school, for instance, may have special scholarships to try and lure the best and brightest to their campus. Your reach school might charge full tuition for a year abroad – or you might just have to pay local prices (which are usually much lower). There may be scholarships for pursuing certain specialities.

That last one is very important. Often, a school without a rep in a particular field – if it’s trying to change that – will be pulling out all the stops. They’ll be paying high salaries to grab big names in the field and they’ll be pouring cash into new facilities… and they’ll have special scholarships to get the best students as well.

It’s a win-win situation in every way – great professors, great dormitories, and great price breaks. This is often the case in the sciences – especially newer sciences, like genetics or informatics – but you can find similar deals in the humanities (especially at schools with big science reps).

Aside from these special situations, every school has a different policy regarding financial aid. To pick one high profile example, Harvard charges a sliding tuition. If you get in to Harvard, you’re going – it’s just a matter of figuring out what your family can afford.

Some schools, on the other hand, are extremely picky. You will essentially need to be on the lower income end of the scale in order to qualify.

Most places are somewhere in between.

Now, rather than figuring all that out once you know where you’ve been accepted, you should make this a factor when deciding where to apply. You really only need five or six schools – more if you’re going for a bunch of reaches or Ivies – and you’ll find in each category that there will be a plethora of schools that are virtually indistinguishable.

Even after visiting campuses and sizing up profs, there will likely be dozens of schools that would make both you and your child happy.

That’s when you check out the financial packages available, such as your likelihood of getting those packages and any special deals that are out there.

Don’t do it last – after the application has already been sent. Do it first, as you decide where to send those applications. That’s how you pick the right college – and help keep it as affordable as possible.

For more insights into picking the right college or university, check out our free report How To Pick A College Or University That Will Give You The Best Financial Aid Package — More FREE Money, Less Loans…

Until next time,

Scott Weingold

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1 Comment

R JohnsonAugust 26th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Lots to think about after reading this, but great pointers.

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.