Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MN Office of Higher Education

Once you’ve begun your college search and identified several schools you’re excited about, the next step is start narrowing down these options. Weighing the pros and cons of each will help you get closer to making a final decision you feel confident in. Below, we’ve outlined criteria to consider when making that list.

Female student in front of two paths

Find Which Schools To Focus on With These Guidelines

Affordability for your Budget

Understanding how an institution fits your financial situation is a significant factor in determining whether that program makes sense for you long-term. Expenses like class materials and housing costs should be included as you look at the total cost of the colleges on your list. If a specific school fits all of your criteria but is outside your budget, there are several resources available that may be able to help. See our guides to grants, student loans, scholarships, and financial aid at Minnesota institutions, and access tips for lowering the cost of higher education as you plan financially for your college experience.

Courses Offered

If you have a firm idea of the career you want to pursue, you can narrow your list down by choosing schools that offer the strongest curriculum for your area of interest. If you already know your intended area of study, use our Minnesota College Search Tool to find specific institutions that offer programs foryour preferred areas of study. The toll can help you find intitutions according to the degree you are seeking to obtain.

If you’re unsure which career path you wish to pursue, larger universities can offer a variety of programs, and the flexibility to explore before you decide on a major. However, be mindful of the extra costs associated with taking courses that do not count toward obtainging your degree.

Beginning at a community college can be another great option, which tends to cost less and still offers many programs in your selected area of study. Once you’ve determined the career you’re most interested in, you can transfer to another university with programs that fit your needs. If you’re uncertain about where to start, consult our Explore Career Options page.

Ease of Admission

If you start your college search early, you can work towards specific schools’ admissions requirements. To help you get ready for applications, see our resource page on Preparing for College. Use this tool to identify which schools you will most likely be admitted to.

A new program called Direct Admissions Minnesota has made this process easier for Minnesota high school seniors in the participating high schools who are on track to graduate. If you’re a senior in a participating high school, you can receive a list of Minnesota colleges to which you are proactively admitted. This means you can know beforehand whether or not you will be accepted to a program. You can then complete a free admissions application to your desired college or university. Over 50 Minnesota institutions participate in this program. Learn more about Direct Admissions.  

In-Person versus Online Classes

Understanding your learning environment preference can also be a helpful factor in your decision. Online courses can be more convenient, with no commute required. This flexibility may be beneficial if you work or care for family members. While the convenience and affordability of online courses can be appealing for certain personal situations, there are a few potential drawbacks. Some degrees may include course material that requires hands-on experience and cannot be substituted with online classes. In-person learning can also help some students perform better academically, and for some, courses in a physical classroom contribute to the overall college experience.

The College Experience

Take time to think about how you want to spend your time and in out of the classroom. If you’re interested in the social aspects of college, be sure to evaluate whether or not the schools on your list have the atmosphere and extracurriculars you’re looking for. If you want to participate in activities outside your area of study, search for colleges that offer clubs, athletic opportunities, and on-campus living.

Every school on your list has advantages to look at, and by weighing the categories above, you’ll have a well-rounded view of each of your top choices. As you narrow down your list of schools to a final choice, you’ll have a clear idea of what makes best sense for you professionally, financially, socially, and for the unique interests that make you who you are so you can move forward with confidence.


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