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The 5 P’s of Choosing Colleges

With over 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S., deciding where to apply – and, ultimately, which college to attend – can seem overwhelming, especially as you begin your college search. The task can be less daunting if your family agrees on a game plan for sorting out the options. The first step? Deciding what your priorities are for your college search.

For most students and their families, college search priorities boil down to one or more of the “five P’s”: Place, Program, Prestige, Price, and Personal. Let’s take a look at some of the questions you and your parents might ask yourselves in order to weigh the importance of each “P.” As you read through these questions, answer those that seem particularly relevant to you.

Place: Are you dreaming about attending college in a city? Is staying close to home important? Is a particular part of the country calling you? Do you prefer warm weather most of the year or want to experience all four seasons?

Program: Do you already have a specific college major or career in mind? Are you hoping for strong advising to help you figure out your interests? Do you prefer a school with more flexible general education requirements or a more structured curriculum? Is studying abroad or access to internships critical? Do you need support programs for a learning disability?

Prestige: Are “bragging rights” about the college you attend important to you? Will you only consider schools that rank high on published surveys?

Price: What is a realistic annual budget for your family for college expenses? Are you hoping for scholarships? Are you willing to take on student/parent loans for a more expensive college?

Personal: Are you hoping to participate in certain extracurricular activities during college, such as athletics, music or Greek life? Would you prefer to attend a religiously-affiliated college? Do you want a school where students tend to be more liberal or more conservative, or perhaps a mix? Are there other characteristics you hope your future college will have?

Don’t be surprised if your priorities change as you begin to research, visit, and apply to colleges; changing your mind is part of the college search process. As your list begins to take shape, revisit the 5 P’s to evaluate how each college fits your current priorities.

The “5 P’s” can also be a useful starting point for family discussions about college. Students and parents can work through the list of questions individually and create their own ranking of the importance of each “P.” Then, meet as a group to discuss how and why you’ve prioritized the five categories. Often, you’ll discover ideas for your college search that you or your parents haven’t considered before.

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