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5 things you can’t overlook when comparing colleges (and a free college comparison template)

There’s no denying it—researching colleges is a lot of work. From academics to tuition, there are a lot of factors to consider, especially when you’re a student-athlete. But the more thorough you are in your analysis, the more confident you’ll feel about your college decision.

So, to help you save some time and energy, we created a college comparison chart that lists all the aspects you need to look into. That way, you’ll have a clear view of all your college options and can carefully consider which one is the best choice for you. (This chart will also come in handy when you begin to visit colleges).

Plus, here’s a recap of the five aspects you can’t overlook when you’re comparing your college options.

The college’s profile

First and foremost, you want to cover all the logistics. Not only is it the easiest way to start comparing colleges, but it can also help you spot some deal breakers. Begin by researching basic information like the school’s student population, where it’s located (specifically, how far away from home will you be?), application deadlines, average incoming freshman ACT and SAT scores, the campus setting, and housing available. You can use our free NCSA Find Colleges map when you create an NCSA profile to start gathering information.

Cost and scholarship

Sometimes it all comes down to money—and college price tags can be quite shocking. To get a realistic comparison, look at the total cost of the college, not just tuition or how much scholarship money you’re getting. First-year costs include tuition, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, etc. (The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created a nifty tool you can use to get a complete view of college costs). And then plug in your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and any additional aid you’re receiving—scholarships, grants, merit-based aid.

Academic history

Obviously, you want to set yourself up for success. So, on top of looking at the school’s national rankings and graduation rate, don’t forget to check out the team’s academic data, too. For example, have any of the student-athletes graduated with the major you’re interested in? What is the graduation rate among the players? At some colleges, it’s common for the college-athletes to major in the same field and take the same classes together so they can all be available for practice. As you explore different athletic programs, dig deep into academics. After all, it’s a main aspect in your college experience.

Your chances of connecting with the coach

If you’re dead set on competing in college, then you need to consider your chances of getting recruited at every school you’re interested in. A college can offer you everything you’ve ever wanted, but if you’re not in contact with the coach, then you’re not going to have a lot of luck getting on their radar. A great way to gauge your chances of getting recruited is by looking at the team’s roster. Here you can see the athlete’s key stats, where they’re from (aka where the coach recruits), and if there are a lot of upperclassmen graduating in your position. Then, you should track your communication with every school to see how you’re progressing with each coach. Your free NCSA profile provides a progress tab when you click on a specific college, which makes tracking your coach relationships easy.

How you feel about it

Nothing can tell you how much you like—or dislike—about a college like your gut. We always recommend visiting campus if you can and checking out the scene for yourself to help you get the full picture. Some student-athletes have that “aha” moment where they just know this is where they belong. And others realize they’re looking for a different experience. Either way, you need to listen to your instincts when it comes to picking your school. You shouldn’t have any doubts when you make the college decision. And mostly importantly, you should ask yourself, “Would I still want to go to this school even if I couldn’t compete in my sport here?” If the answer isn’t yes, keep looking.

You can learn more about the best ways to search for colleges on the NCSA website.