How to pick the best college for YOU


Staci Buse

Xavier seniors MarySue Dickens, Isabella Buse and Regan Perrin gather for a photo in their selected college apparel. They are celebrating their decisions with the company College X-ing, which counsels students in their applications and college decision-making processes.

Let’s face it: we’ve all stalked the XCP senior Instagram year after year, excited to see where everyone is going to school next year. It’s only natural to wonder what made seniors choose the schools that they did, when it seems like there are hundreds of options out there. 

Whether you are a curious underclasswoman, an anxious junior or a celebrating senior, this article is for you. College admissions can be overwhelming, but it is a necessary process that leads you to hopefully find the perfect home for you. 

As a junior, you start to hear the repetitive question of what you are looking for in a school. Some people do have an answer for this, but many naturally do not. It is perfectly normal to be unsure of what environment you would thrive in best, but it is important to research all the different options. 

My situation was a pretty rare one, as I’ve known where I wanted to go for over a year now. I knew early on that I wanted to major in journalism, and when researching the best schools for that I found the University of Missouri. I toured the campus during my junior year over spring break and fell in love with the social scene, the size of the campus, and the loving sense of community and school spirit that Mizzou’s atmosphere radiates. 

I know most people are not on the same path like I was, so I collected testimonials from multiple Xavier students who are attending all different types of universities.

Location is a huge factor in choosing a school. Would you be OK with staying close to home, or do you want to get as far away as possible? Is the weather a dealbreaker? What is your financial budget? All these questions and more are important to evaluate when it comes time to start applying to college. 

A common choice are the in-states, the main ones being Arizona State University, The University of Arizona, Grand Canyon University and Northern Arizona University.  Senior Heloise Cenac said the ASU Barrett campus “felt like a city within a city,” and she likes the idea of a “convenient move-in day.” Senior Grace Helenic was drawn to the affordable cost of attendance at GCU, as she wanted to ensure she could “graduate without any student loan or debt.” Laura Ottesen, a senior attending U of A in the fall, said she feels like she will still get the “home away from home” experience and is “excited to room with someone out-of-state in hopes of still having experiences with many new people.” 

Another common choice for Xavier girls is our neighboring state of California, which has a multitude of options for college. Senior Alexis Adams, going to SDSU, was drawn to living in San Diego because she has “vacationed there her entire life and has always loved it.” Senior Emily Lunt pointed out the good weather, and she is “anticipating the combination of the beach and city life that USC will provide.” Both girls agreed that while their schools are out-of-state, they like that it still feels relatively close to home.

Interestingly enough, Texas has also been quite the popular destination this year. Senior MarySue Dickens seems ecstatic to head off to Texas Christian University in her “boots and hat” because of her “direct admission into the nursing program, diverse and exciting student life and Texan appeal.” Senior Regan Perrin, headed to the University of Texas at Austin, was drawn to the “action-packed city and the endless opportunities that are offered to Texas students.” Regan said that “not only does UT excel in academics, but it also has an exciting social life and a legacy of an electric athletic environment.” Anyone who knows senior Halston Yerxa knows that she faced the tough decision of attending a California or Texas school in the fall and spent a long time coming to a conclusion. Halston eventually decided to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas because of travel convenience and the southern Greek-life environment. She also pointed out that in the case of a new Covid-19 variant, she likes that Texas schools are less likely to shut down because she would “love to experience a full freshman year of college.” 

There are definitely girls who anticipate moving very far away from home, as is the case with senior Megan Wilham. She has chosen to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa because of the “beautiful beach surrounding the area and the tropical climate.” Megan says she is not afraid to be so far away, as she is “excited for a change from Arizona and to meet some fresh faces.” Although moving so far from home may seem scary for some, it really can be a good fit for some people and is definitely worth at least the consideration. 

Now, let’s talk the size of the campus. I can guarantee you will be asked if you prefer a large, medium or small-sized undergraduate population, and it can be tricky to be certain what would be the best fit for you. For example,  I am personally very outgoing and thrive in large groups, so I knew I would be happiest at a big school. However, the question of size concerns a lot more than just the social scene: it is a multitude of things, some being class-size, campus proximity, opportunities available, preference of Greek life and athletic spirit. Different people thrive in different types of environments, which makes size a very important factor in a college decision-making process. 

Let’s start with small schools, which normally range from 1,000 to about 5,000 undergraduate students. This is a great option for many students, as it allows for a more intimate community and connections between teachers and peers. When asked why she chose Creighton University, a school with a population of approximately 4,000, senior Grace Paul said that every time she visited, her experience “felt very personal which made it very easy to call it a second home.” Senior Libby Melvin will be attending Providence College in the fall, which has a similar population size to Creighton. She felt that the small class sizes would be beneficial to her learning experience and she appreciates that “there are still major sports teams and other social opportunities.” Ella Burbach was drawn to Santa Clara University, whose undergraduate admissions fall in the 5000s, because of its “intimate but fun campus and community.” Ella knew after visiting that this was definitely where she wanted to spend the next four years of her life.  

There are also the medium-sized schools, which range between an undergraduate population of 5,000 to 15,000 students. Senior Lily Gabler will be attending the University of Tampa in Florida for its size, location, and her major program.“The size of the undergraduate population is about 12,000 students which means the student-to-faculty ratio is about 17:1, allowing me to receive help and attention from teachers,” said Lily. Another girl attending a school that falls into the “medium” category is senior Lila Norstrom. Lila will be attending the College of Charleston in South Carolina because she loved the “size, intimacy of the classes, and [that I] couldn’t pass up being by the beach!” Overall, it seems that medium-sized schools could be a great fit for anyone who wants smaller class sizes with a bit of a larger population than a typical “small school.” 

Finally, there are the big schools, which are pretty much anything over 15,000 undergraduate students. These are oftentimes (but not always)  state schools, and they are known for a thriving social and sports atmosphere and unbeatable school spirit. They also have an abundance of opportunities for students to explore whatever sparks their interests, which is the main factor that drew me to Mizzou. Although Clemson University technically falls under the “big” category, Senior Audrey Sanchez loves that her 20,000 undergraduate population school still has more of a “medium feel” to her, as there are many schools out there with a much larger student body. One of the reasons senior Audrey Warner chose Ole Miss is because she  “wanted to be surrounded by people who love where they go and enjoy getting involved with things like football games.” Senior Carlee Shillidy, who is attending San Diego State University in the fall, said,  “It was definitely hard to tell whether I would thrive in a small environment or a big one, but after visiting and weighing out the options, I decided a big school was for me because of the exciting social atmosphere and the opportunities to explore many different options and to meet all different types of people.” 

I highly suggest reaching out to people who have chosen their colleges and/or are currently attending a university, even if you don’t know them. It is so helpful to receive insight from someone who has been through the process, and I have found that most people love talking about it and are always willing to lend a helping hand. 

As someone who went through the college admissions process and watched my friends explore all different options, I can definitely testify that it all works out in the end. Admissions can be stressful and oftentimes disappointing, as things do not always go as you had originally planned and minds change all the time. However, know you will end up where you are meant to be, and try to enjoy the process while you’re at it!