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How to explore colleges

Smiling female graduate from Columbia Gorge Community College


There are many college options. Find ones that will be a good fit by thinking about your future goals, needs and preferences.

How to find colleges that will be a good fit

Whether you are deciding what colleges to apply to, what college to attend, or just exploring your options, your goal is to learn about the academic programs, student life, and financial aid opportunities available at a college so you can find a good college fit.


  • Type: Is it a community college, university, or trade school?
  • Location: Where is the college? Is it a city, small town, or somewhere in between? Is it close to home or far away? What is the geography and weather?
  • Size: How many students are there? What percentage are full-time v. part-time?
  • Special focus: Does the college serve a specific population (for example, women-only or a Historically Black College or University)? Is it religiously-affiliated? Does it focus on a specific subject or career?


  • Student body: What are the other students like? Where are students from?
  • Housing: Do they have dorms or off-campus housing nearby? Are students required to live on campus?
  • Extracurriculars: What are popular activities, organizations, sports or experiences? What do students do on the weekends?
  • Support services: What support services (like tutoring, disability services, or counseling) are available to students?


  • Degrees: Do they offer certificates, Associate or Bachelor’s degrees?
  • Majors and programs: What are popular majors or programs? Does it have the program or major that you are interested in?
  • Classes: How many students are in a class? Are you learning online, in-person, or a hybrid?
  • Academic opportunities: Do they have study abroad programs, research experiences, or internships?
  • Graduation rates: What percentage of students are successful in completing a degree?


  • Cost: How much is tuition and other costs including room and board? (Remember that most students don’t pay full price. You can find the net price for an estimate of what you will actually pay.)
  • Financial aid: What percentage of students receive financial aid? Does the college meet full need? What is the average debt after graduation?
  • Jobs: Are there part-time jobs available on campus or nearby?
  • Future earnings: What are the average salaries of graduates?

How to explore colleges

  • Search online college databases like College Scorecard and BigFuture.
  • Go to each college’s website and sign up to receive e-mails and an information packet.
  • Follow college accounts on social media.
  • Take an in-person or virtual campus tour.
  • Attend an info session.
  • Talk to students, staff, and alumni of a school.
  • Learn about Oregon colleges.

Other considerations when exploring colleges

Authorized to award degrees

Oregon must approve colleges to operate in the state and grant degrees. If a school is not approved in Oregon, any degree or credential you earn will not be recognized.


Colleges can choose to be evaluated by different accreditation organizations. They are accredited if they meet the minimum standards.

Accreditation is not required by law. However, regional (not national) accreditation is usually best. Regional accreditation means it’s more likely your credits will transfer between colleges. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities provides regional accreditation in Oregon.

For-profit v. non-profit

Most colleges, including public community colleges and universities are not-for-profit. However, many private career or technical schools are for-profit.

Are for-profit colleges bad? No. But these institutions exist, at least in part, to earn money for their owners and shareholders. That means they all are working to make a profit.

For some, that means making decisions that will help them make more money, rather than making decisions that are in the best interests of their students. But that’s not true for all. In fact, in some cases, a for-profit college might be the best fit for you. Your job is to research all your college options carefully.