Starting Your College Research: What You Need to Know

The first big decision of our lives– finding the right college– can be stressful as we’re trying to navigate through lots of information. Many ask: where do I start? As a senior in high school, I’ve done a lot of research on colleges to ultimately make a decision on my future. One of the most important parts of college research is to find the place that is the best fit for you. It can be really difficult to compare schools, but by looking for the right information, you can gather a lot of insight about the respective college. When starting college research, these are the factors that you should consider…

  1. Undergraduate Population Size

This is one of the most important factors to consider when researching colleges. Students can typically categorize themselves into whether they would be better fits at a small, medium, or large college. Typically a smaller college has less than 5,000 students; a medium-sized college has between 5,000-15,000 students; a larger college has more than 15,000 students. There are pros and cons for attending each of different-sized colleges, but it does depend on the person. Some students prefer having large campuses because of the myriad of resources it provides, while others may prefer smaller colleges because of the smaller class sizes and personal connections with their professors.

  1. Cost

It’s important to talk to your parents about the costs of college and which ones are within your budget. However, don’t be too quick to take a college off of your list because of the price. Depending on your academics (GPA, test scores, financial need), you may be eligible for scholarships that offset prices of a college that is considered more expensive. 

One way to receive scholarships is through the university you apply to. You may receive a scholarship with no additional application necessary, meaning the college will grant you money solely based on the application you submitted. There are also several scholarship opportunities offered through the university which may require an additional application step, which can be found on their websites. If you are confused, you can always reach out to your admissions counselor.

Another way to receive scholarships is through “third parties”. For example, Heritage High has a scholarship bulletin where students can find applications for various scholarships. Keep in mind that completing applications for local scholarships will greatly increase your chances to win compared to applying to national scholarships where students from all over the country can apply. Although most of these scholarships are intended for seniors, it is never too early to find scholarships that you may be eligible for earlier on. Even if you cannot apply just yet, many of these scholarships are annual, so start a list of scholarships you are interested in applying for.

It is also important to note that the in-state tuition of North Carolina schools are significantly less money than the in-state tuition prices of schools in other states. The average total cost of North Carolina schools is about $23,000 for students that reside within the state. However, in other states, the average cost for in-state students is $30,000. North Carolina has done its best to make college more affordable to all. Although many students do not receive a significant amount of money in scholarships, this is because these scholarships are already “built-in”, making this accessible to more students, no matter the academic profile. 

  1. Average GPA, Test Scores, and Acceptance Rate

This will give you an idea of how you would fit into each college as well as your likelihood of getting in. When you create your college list, there will be three categories that your colleges fall into: safety, target, and reach. Safety schools are intended to be a “safety net”, where you know the chances of your getting in are very high. Target schools are schools that are right at your “level” in terms of your academics. Lastly, reach schools are the schools that are above your academics and are so-called a “reach” to get into. This means that some of your academics may fall below the averages of other students being admitted, but there is still a chance of getting in. 

The acceptance rate can also help determine each of these categories. However, don’t be too scared by extremely small acceptance rates. These are competitive schools, but they also have tactics they use to lower the acceptance rate by encouraging students that are well below their “target” student population to apply.

  1. Class Size

The best way to determine the perfect class size for you is to find the best ways you learn as a student. Do you complete your classwork with little help from the teacher, or do you need to build a personal connection with them to understand the coursework? Some college students do better in classes that may have as many as 300 people– depending on the university, of course– where they learn from the professor’s lecture and rely on themselves, teacher assistants, and other students to complete the class. However, other students thrive in a smaller classroom setting where they have plenty of one-on-one time with their professors. Knowing which student you are will help tremendously as you research colleges.

  1. Male-to-Female Ratio

You may be surprised to find out that some colleges have a very uneven male to female ratio. The goal of most colleges is to have a 1:1 ratio, where there are 50% of each gender. However, some have very uneven ratios for varying reasons. Many times, this has to do with the degree programs offered, which typically are dominated by a specific gender. For example, an engineering-driven school– which is a male-dominated field– may have more males than females because of the degree program.

  1. Students Graduating within 4 years

What many forget to look for is the percentage of students graduating college within 4 years at the specific school. This gives insight into the resources that colleges offer for their students to ensure success after graduation. Two crucial parts of college are building networks of connections as well as preparing students for the workforce. Discovering how successful colleges are in doing this may help guide you in your college decisions and whether that school is the right fit for you.

  1. Popular Majors and Majors Offered

Whether you want to pursue a specific major or you want to discover what major a college offers, you need to research whether the school you are considering has a strong program in the respective area. By looking at the popular majors, you can get an idea of what the school is known for. For example, engineering, which is the program NC State is known for, is one of the most popular majors at the school. This is because the program is unmatched and puts engineering students in a great position for their future careers.

  1. Distance from Home

Moving away from home can be really frightening, especially if you’ve lived in the same place your entire life. Many students prefer going to college closer to their house, so they can still visit when they feel homesick. Others would prefer to be further away from their home because they desire more independence. Either way, it is important that you are looking for colleges within the range of distance you have chosen.

  1. Presence of Greek Life

Whether or not you are interested in participating in Greek Life, it is important to know how many students participate across the campus. If you are not interested in this, it will still give you an idea of how traditional a college is; if you are interested, finding how many students participate can give you an idea on overall involvement as you try to figure out the best fit for you.

With all of this in mind, I have compiled a list of several in-state schools with important information about the school. Note that the distance from home section is the distance from Heritage High School to each respective college.

Appalachian State

  • Low greek life (4% women, 2% men)
  • 18,061 undergrads
  • 57% women: 43% men
  • $19,922
  • 3.98 GPA
  • SAT- 1160
  • ACT- 25
  • Fewer than 20
  • 80% acceptance rate
  • Location: Boone, NC
  • 54% of students
  • Popular majors: psychology, kinesiology & exercise science, business
  • Distance from home: 3 hours 10 minutes

This school is perfect for people who love the mountains. There are many outdoor activities to do like skiing, hiking, and canoeing, which can all be done very close to campus. Appalachian State is a medium-sized school surrounded by a small town, which gives a cozy atmosphere to students. This is a liberal arts school, so it is the best fit for artistic and creative students.

UNC Charlotte

  • Low greek life (8% of women, 5% of men)
  • 24,175 undergrads
  • $23,566
  • 3.49 GPA
  • 1120-1290 
  • 19:1
  • 80% acceptance
  • Location: Charlotte
  • Top majors- Business and marketing, health and related professions, computer and information sciences
  • Distance: 2 hours 36 minutes

UNC Charlotte is perfect for big city people who want a lot to do in the surrounding area of the campus. This is also a rapidly growing university with very new and updated buildings and technology. Compared to much older universities like NC State and UNC Chapel Hill, you wouldn’t have to worry about being in a very old dorm room.

UNC Chapel Hill

  • Very competitive programs (business school only admits 50% of students)
  • Greek life- (17% women, 15% men)
  • 18,495 undergrads
  • $24,765
  • Top majors- Biological and Life Sciences, Social sciences, Communication and Journalism
    • Chapel Hill is known for its medical programs
  • 4.39 GPA
  • SAT- 1370
  • ACT- 30
  • 14:1 student faculty ratio
  • 60% women:40% men
  • 24% acceptance
  • Distance: 46 minutes

UNC Chapel Hill is a great university for students that are serious about their academics. This is also very close to home, so it’s a lot easier to visit on the weekends. Several of UNC Chapel Hill’s programs are ranked very highly, making it a very prestigious school.


UNC Wilmington

  • 5-10 minutes away from beach
  • No football- there never will be as signed by family that donated to school
  • Greek life (9% women, 11% men)
  • 11,881 undergrads
  • 68% acceptance
  • 4.01 GPA
  • SAT- 1240
  • ACT- 25
  • $23,211
  • 63% females, 36% males (heavily female dominated)
  • Popular majors: health and related professions, business and marketing, biological and life sciences
  • Distance- 2:31

UNCW is the perfect place for beach lovers looking to attend a medium-sized school. You can attend your classes and study on the beach! Because of its convenient location, UNCW also has good marine science programs. 

North Carolina State University

  • Greek life- 15% women, 11% men
  • 22,869 undergrads
  • $25,029
  • 3.81 GPA
  • SAT-1320
  • ACT-30
  • 15:1 class size
  • 52% men, 48% women
  • 46% acceptance
  • 59% graduation rate
  • Top 3 majors- engineering, business and marketing, biological and life sciences
  • Distance- 33 minutes

NC State is great for students looking to live in the city. However, it is still secluded from the rest of the city, giving the campus a really great vibe. If you are wanting to major in engineering, State may be the perfect place for you because it has very excellent engineering programs.

East Carolina University

  • Greek life- 8% women, 5% men
  • 18,886 undergrad
  • $21,998
  • 3.83 GPA
  • SAT-1100
  • ACT-22
  • 16:1 class size
  • 42% men, 58% women
  • 88% acceptance rate
  • 42% students graduating in 4 years
  • Top majors- business and marketing, health and related professions, engineering technologies
  • Distance- 1:21

ECU is a great distance from home because it’s convenient to visit, but not too close to home. It is a very inclusive school that is perfect for students wanting to live in the suburbs. ECU has a great nursing program that students build very successful careers from after college.

Whatever college you ultimately decide, make sure you complete your research prior to committing. You are likely spending tens of thousands of dollars to invest in your education, which means it is crucial that you find the right place for you.

Is a college of interest not listed? Check out these resources I got this information from.

https://www.collegedata.com/

https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/best-colleges/

College Hunch App (found in app store)

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