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					The "Right" College vs. The "Best" College
How to Use this Tool
Two Versions — Your Choice: There are two version which you can print out and complete by hand. And an interactive Excel version. If you have one and prefer the other, go to Where to Start: This tool — but more importantly, your college search — requires some research and hard thinking. Take a quick look at the questions we ask in this tool. It will give you a pretty good idea of what you should be thinking about when you look at and consider colleges. In the boxes to the right, list the colleges you're interested in; and colleges that your parents, counselor, teachers, or friends think you should look at.

Scoring: please score each question on a 1 to 5 scale. (Yes, a 2.5 or other fraction is OK.) Examples of what the extremes mean are included with each question.) To calculate your Rough Academic Score, average the two scores from above, your “Grades” and “Course Difficulty.” That number is your “Rough Academic Score.

Your Initial College List

Source of College Recommendation

Who recommended it?

How much do you trust or value this person's recommendation?

Score 1= not at all; 5= complete trust

Did anyone else suggest you attend or Score 1= no one else; 5= everyone at least look at this college? you know

Gut Reaction Research

What was your immediate gut reaction Score 1= Hate it! 5= You're in love to this place? Love or Hate? with it

Score=1 if you were totally turned off; Score = 5 if you were completely turned on. Other Websites or Sources Did you get information from any other Score=1 if you were totally turned off; source which you trust? Score = 5 if you were completely turned on. The College Newspaper Go online and check out a few issues of the college newspaper. Did what you Score 1= Boring!; Score 5= Very cool! read interest you or bore you? Major or Course of Study Let's assume you have some idea of what you want to major in or study. From your research, how well is your initial academic interest satisfied?

Fiske Guide Check out the Fiske Guide for each of the Colleges on your list. What was your reaction? Were you more or less interested? College website Visit the College's Website. Spend some time exploring it.

Score=1 if you were totally turned off; Score = 5 if you were completely turned on

Score 1 = Couldn't find my desired major or initial course of study; Score 5 = perfect fit

Distribution Requirements Some colleges have a core curriculum all students have to take. Others have a range of distribution requirements that can often be filled from a broad array of course. And a few have no distribution requirements at all. For each college on your list, check carefully to see what the distribution requirements are for graduation. And then compare those requirements to your own interests.

Score 1= Hate them; for example, you'll have to take something -- math, a language, a science course -- you can't stand. Score 5 = Way cool; no problem!

Extracurricular Interests Some people have very specific desires about extracurricular activities they hope to pursue in college. Are there Score 1= Can't find any of them. any passions you have? Or activities Score 5= everything I want is offered! you want to pursue? If so, does each college on your list offer that activity? College Size Flexibility Many students are advised -- or decide on their own -- to look (principally) at particular size schools. For example, some students look only at smaller colleges while others consider only larger universities. How comfortable do you personally feel about the size of a college, and is that comfort level based on any personal experience?

Score 1= you're absolutely certain about the size of the school you want -whether it is large or small. Score 5= absolutely flexible about size

Actual College Size For each college you've listed, how does that school's size correlate to your initial preference about college size?

Score 1= no correlation to the size you're interested in. Score 5= absolute fit

Location & Setting Schools -- like homes -- exist in an environmental context. Generally, they are either in an urban setting; a suburban setting; or a rural setting. (Some colleges which are "in" a Score 1= UGH; Score 5= really particular city, are really in a suburb attractive to you. anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes from that city.) How attractive do you find the location of each college?

Once you have finished this "Research" section, click on the tab below called "College Visit" to continue.

Criteria: The scoring system we include in this tool reflects our judgment. The criteria and their relative importance are subjective. They may or may not be what is important to you. So feel free to change criteria or the weighting (importance) we give them. But we strongly encourage you to be rigorous and consistent in your thinking and assessment. Don't "stack the deck" because someone (a parent, a teacher, a counselor, or a friend) likes a particular college or because you want to attend a place with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Choosing the right college is about what you want; not what someone else thinks might be right for you.

College 1

The "Right" College vs. The "Best" College
Your College List Part 2
Repeat the list of colleges you started on the previous page. Make sure you keep the colleges in the same order!

The College Visit

Have you visited the college? We strongly, strongly urge you to visit as many colleges as possible -- even if you have no interest in applying to a particular place. The more colleges you visit, the better your frame of reference will be. Just remember to keep notes about each visit. After the first few, visits will start to meld together in your mind.

Score 1= no; 5= yes

First impression Many students have an immediate reaction to a school. What was your immediate overall reaction to each place? The Students What was your immediate reaction to the students?

Score 1= you hated it. 5= You LOVED it. Score 1= Hated them;couldn't see yourself among them for 10 minutes much less 4 years. Score 5= Loved them

Tour Guide Some tour guides are great and others can turn you off -- unfairly but completely -- to a particular school. While it is important -- and easy to say Score 1= hated him or her. 5 = you -- "look beyond" the particular tour newest best friend guide, it is useful to be candid and explicit about how much that person influenced your impression of the school. Admissions Staff The admissions staff represent but one tiny piece of a campus' "culture." But they can have a significant impact on how you initially view a school. Again, look beyond them, but record your Score = 1 = UGH; 5= great people impression, and decide later how much they influenced your perception of a place. The Physical Campus How did you react to the campus itself? The "Vibe" Just walking around on a campus you can sometimes get a feel for what the place or the kids are like. After spending time on campus, what was your reaction? (This is different from your initial gut reaction.) Score 1= awful; 5= great!

Score 1= awful; 5= great!

The Social Scene Did you have an opportunity to go to a party? An athletic event? A performance? Whether you had the Score 1 = not your scene at all; 5= opportunity or not, try to do research wow! about the amount and types of social activates on each campus.

Other (faculty, a class, an event) Try to experience something "academic" on each campus. What was your reaction to that experience?

Score 1= awful; 5= great!

Once you have finished this "College Visit" section, click on the tab below called "Final Considerations" to continue.

College 1

The "Right" College vs. The "Best" College
Your College List Part 3
Again, repeat the list of colleges you started on the previous page. Make sure you keep the colleges in the same order!

Financial Considerations

Paying for college is a major investment and a significant consideration for most families. Before you include or rule out a school Score 1= not at all; 5 = you're willing because of its cost ask yourself (and to hock your first-born child. your family) the question, "How willing are you to go into debt in order to attend this school?)

Total Score

If you are using the Excel version of this tool, a score will appear for each college. (If you are using the pdf version, you should add up each column to generate a score.) Scores are simply a relative tool to help you sort through your possibilities.


Every college uses slightly different criteria to evaluate applicants. Obviously some are much more selective than others. Most publish the median SAT scores of the students they accept; and where successful applicants stand academically -- in terms of GPA or class rank -- in high school. You need to realistically assess your own chances based solely on these two criteria.

SAT Scores Compare your SAT (or PSAT or ACT) scores to the median scores reported by the college. (If a particular college doesn't count the SAT use just your GPA. If a school is SAT option, see if your SAT score helps you or hurts you.)

Score 1 = your SAT score is 150 points lower than the college's median score. Score 2 = your SAT is 50 points lower Score 3 = your SAT is at their median Score 4 = your SAT is 50 points higher Score 5+ your SAT is 150 points higher

Grades Now realistically assess your grades. And if the college publishes its median or class rank distribution for accepted students, compare your grades to those accepted. Course Difficulty Colleges do take into consideration the difficulty of the course you've taken. Taking AP courses can count a fair amount --if you've done well in them. Assess the rigor of the courses you've taken.

Score Score Score Score Score Score Score Score Score Score

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5

= you are a C student - you are a C+/B student = you are a solid B student = You are a B+/A- student = You are a solid A student = you've taken no AP courses - you taken 1 AP = you've taken 2 or 3 AP's = You've taken 4 or 5 = You've taken more than 5

Your "rough" Academic Score Simply for the purpose of getting a very rough idea about how you stack up against a school's selectivity, we've calculated a rough "Academic Score." It is very rough! Below we explain how to use it -- with caution! Extracurricular Activities Extracurricular activities can -- but rarely! -- make a significant difference in your chances of admission. Realistically assess your own extracurricular profile. Score 1 = you don't participate in any extracurricular activates and don't have an after-school job. Score 2 = you participate a bit in extracurricular activity and may have an occasional part-time job Score 3 = you participate regularly on a sport, in a club, and have had the occasional after-school job Score 4 = you are a leader in a club or a stand-out athlete Score 5 = you are an all-county or allstate athlete or a top performer artist, or community leader

Reach, Possible or Safety?

A College's Selectivity and Your Chances of Admission

Here is a very rough way to assess your chances of admission at the colleges you've identified. But be advised: this is very, very rough, and you need to talk with your guidance counselor to better gauge your chances. Look at the two "scores" generated immediately above: your "rough" Academic Score and your extracurricular score. Keep them separate. The Academic Score is much more important unless your extracurricular score is a 4 or a 5. If the extracurricular score is a 4, it may improve your chances of admission. if it is a 5, it probably will. Otherwise, just use your Academic Score! Score 1 = That particular college is probably not realistic. Score 2 = This school is a REACH Score 3 = This college is a POSSIBLE Score 4=This school is a STRONG POSSIBLE Score 5= This college is a SAFETY

Your College List And Their Scores (A Recap)

The Scores

A Not-So-Final Word:
These two sets of scores -- the school's attractiveness to you and your very rough competitive position in the applicant pool -- are designed to guide you. They are designed to help you think about what you are really looking for; and how tough your admissions prospects may be. They should not be treated as a "black-line" cut-off or guarantee of any sort. Use these scrores to assess -realistically -- your interest and your chances. And let them help guide you.

College 1



College 1


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