Top 19 Essential Criteria to Select a University

I have a 15-year-old. He is already looking into what he wants to do with his life, as he should. I’ve been trying to keep him encouraged and at the same time not overwhelm him with the tons of options available in a post high school education. When we have a decision, I’ve always found that making a list of important items and ranking them helps us make a more informed decision and we end up happier with the final results. I present this list in order to help all of us organize the important parts of the transition to college for our teenagers. Really, this could probably be helpful for anyone that is getting ready to seek and pay for further education. Whether it’s undergraduate, masters, doctoral, or professional school, most of the items on this list could be ranked to help make the proper decision. Keep reading to see the Top 19 essential criteria to select a university.

Top 19 Essential Criteria to Select a University

What Should you Consider When Looking at Universities?


  1. Location


Whether you are looking to stay close to home or looking for adventure this will factor into your decision. Do you like the desert? Do you like the beach? You can’t study 24 hours a day and need some outside time. You might as well go to a climate you like.


  1. Academic Strengths

You should sit down with your teenager and see what interests him. You probably don’t want to attend M.I.T. if he is interested in drama as a major. There are several lists of rankings of schools based on the area of study. We plan to use those lists to help come to a consensus on where he will attend school in the coming years.


  1. Cost

This is a big one in my opinion. Depending on the rules you have for financing higher education, this can make or break the whole ranking process. As you will see in future posts, I have decided there should not be any debt used to finance our children’s educations. If you are further along than us and haven’t done any planning regarding savings for college then this might not be feasible for you. As an absolute deal breaker, I would recommend not borrowing any more money that the expected first-year salary of whatever degree your student obtains. It’s a risking proposition to borrow anything considering only just over half of first-time students end up graduating from four-year degree programs. Hopefully, since you are reading this site you are in the graduating half.


  1. Community

This is another big one to me. I attended an extremely large state university and I could easily have just been another butt in a seat. Without seeking community to encourage and inspire me I could have wandered the halls and easily disappeared. Thankfully I realized this and made the effort to help others and get help from people who had similar interests. It extremely enriched my whole university experience. If you aren’t as capable of seeking community, maybe a university that assigns a mentor to each student is better.


  1. Overall Size

The overall size of each school will determine a lot of things when and if you eventually attend a campus. Do you have to take a bus across campus? Can you walk? When you register, do you talk to the professors yourself or is it all Internet-based? Do you want a really big alumni base or a small close-knit one?


  1. Class Size

This goes along with overall size. The bigger the university is, the bigger the classes (at least early on). Are you okay being one of 500 in a freshman intro chemistry course? Are you okay dealing with a teaching assistant or do you want to speak with the professor directly?


  1. University or College or Something Else?

Do you want a particular type of school or are you more interested in gaining the knowledge the school can teach top 19 essential criteria to select a universityyou? Colloquially the words “university” and “college” have come to mean the same thing, but in reality, a college is smaller and only offers undergraduate degrees. A University is a collection of colleges and offers post-graduate work.


  1. Available Degrees

This is another big factor. Say you are interested in business and chemistry. You find a university with a great chemistry department but they don’t have a business school. If you end up changing majors because the chemistry wasn’t as great as you thought, you would have to transfer and potentially have unusable credits and a large cost to move. Maybe you would be just as happy at another school with decent programs in both disciplines.


  1. Admission Standards

This is a biggie. If you don’t make the grades to make it into the schools with the highest scores you better look at some other places that match your score range. You never know what will happen and most schools don’t only look at test scores and grades, but it is a good idea to have some backup plans in case Harvard doesn’t take you with a 2.5 GPA.


  1. Housing Availability and Cost

Some universities are in some pretty high cost of living areas. Others are in some pretty scary areas. If you have plans to buy a house and have your student and four of his buddies rent out a place that’s a lot easier to do in Waco, Texas than it is in San Francisco.


  1. Transportation

This is another one for the cost category. Can your student get away with not owning a car and using public transportation and a bike? Does the university have a good intercampus bus system? Does the city offer Uber/Lyft if they need to get somewhere and don’t own a car?


  1. Availability of Graduate Degrees

Some schools offer preference to their undergraduates when applying for graduate programs. Does it even matter? Maybe you want a certain experience for undergrad, but just want the best reputation for graduate school, or want to study with a particular professor after undergrad.


  1. Political Ideology

I think it is fair to say that a large number of universities in the United States today have liberal leanings and the professors are consistent with that ideology. If you want your child exposed to that way of thinking, there are probably a plethora of universities to attend. Conservative or primarily religious ideology is rarer, but there are plenty of choices in those capacities as well. I think it is smart to analyze what your student will be exposed to and talk with him or her about the potential views of the professors and staff.


  1. Graduation Rates

What percentage of student ultimately graduate? Going to college is what you make of it, but I think graduation rates are a good sign of how dedicated the staff and professors are to helping students success.


  1. Public Reputation

How important is name recognition? Do you want that special university seal on your diploma to proudly display in your office? Do you want to hob-knob with the other Ivy League grads at the local country club?


  1. Sports Programs

top 19 essential criteria to select a universityIs there a potential for a scholarship on a sports team? If the sports team doesn’t work out, is there a backup plan at the same school? Do you like watching football games and plan on making that a big part of your entertainment and community?


  1. Fraternities/ Sororities

Some people find a lot of value in these organizations both during school and afterward. I never pledged so I don’t know the inner workings but I have several colleagues that are very happy and still keep in contact with their fraternity brothers over the years.


  1. Alumni Involvement

Do you want to have a good alumni program when you go back to visit your school? Are the alumni active and involved in keeping the university’s standards high and their reputation intact? These could all factor into the ability to find a job after graduation and the weight your diploma carries when applying for employment.


  1. Graduating Students Average Income

This is always an interesting one to me because everyone is unique when it comes to income after school, but this could factor into your decision. The other part to consider is sometimes schools start out with high average incomes. Then, after ten years they fall down where other schools are. Others have middle incomes initially but a greater number of their students go on to bigger endeavors and earn higher salaries.



I think this is a pretty comprehensive list. If you rank these items and identify the universities that rank high in the categories you value, you can feel satisfied that you’ve made a great decision on the school to attend. Do you have other criteria? Let me know what you think? How did you decide where to go to college?

Start tracking your expenses, deposits, and investments with Personal Capital. It’s a great way to keep track of all your accounts in one easy platform. I use it to track my investment returns and overall net worth. Just click the link to the right and start your account today. The best part is it’s all free. There is nothing else on the market today that is as powerful and easy to use. 

Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn't skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

2 Responses to “Top 19 Essential Criteria to Select a University

  • I’m bookmarking this one… our son is only 2 but I have a feeling college will come wayyy too quickly!

    • It’s amazing how quick the time passes. My oldest is starting to take dual credit classes and will be going to college in a couple years. Seems like we just brought him home from the hospital a few days ago.

      Tom @ HIP

Follow on Feedly