College and scholarship search tips from The Princeton Review

As part of our focus on hot topics facing students and parents as they head back to school this fall, Rob Franek, the Senior Vice President and Publisher of the Princeton Review, shared these tips on how juniors and seniors can best approach the stressful college and scholarship search.

At The Princeton Review, we have spent 21 years surveying college students and administrators at hundreds of schools for our annual Best Colleges guide -- all to help people like you identify and get in to their best-fit colleges.

But what exactly do we mean by a “best fit” college? What should you be looking for as you research schools?

We believe “best fit” means a school that is compatible with your personality and goals across three categories: academics, campus culture, and financial aid.


Many colleges offer outstanding academics, but their departments, facilities, and course offerings vary widely. As you begin your search, think first about your own academic interests.

Maybe you’re looking for top-notch science labs and opportunities to help professors with their research. Maybe you want cutting edge design technology or chances to learn from studio artists on the faculty. If you’re undecided about your major, that’s okay.

Think about your learning style. Do you learn best listening to lectures, or in classroom discussions? Check out a prospective school’s student/teacher ratio, and the percentage of courses taught by TAs. Ask current students about the classes they take in their first and second years, before declaring a major.

Don’t forget to look into honors or specialized programs, which often offer the kind of experience you might have at a small private liberal arts college within a large public university.

Campus Culture

Finding your ideal campus culture is often the most fun part of the college search and a refreshing break from worrying about your grades and test scores. Location, student body political leanings, and activities outside the classroom all provide a broad view of the culture on campus.

A school in a small, town might provide a beautiful campus, few distractions from your studies, and a close-knit student community. A school in a large city might offer the chance to live on your own instead of in a dorm, off-campus entertainments, and opportunities for part-time work or internships. Try to chat with enrolled students who are participating in activities you might enjoy.

Maybe you want to pledge a sorority, play an intramural sport, or host a college radio station show. When you visit a college, look for chalk on the quad and flyers in the halls—such announcements can tell you legions about what your life on a campus may be.

Financial Aid

With college costs growing every year, it’s important to consider each school's price tag and financial aid offerings. Review your options for payment and the packages offered by each school carefully, and follow the news—while federal financial aid is widely available, it’s important to track changing policies and interest rates.

Most scholarships are offered by schools to accepted students based on merit or need—less than 5% of all financial aid awarded comes from scholarships offered outside of specific institutions. Your best chances for non-loan aid are to earn high grades and prep to score as high as you can on standardized tests.

Look for any scholarship opportunities within your community, church or religious organizations, or your or your parents’ employers.

We know the college search can be daunting, but don’t fret. It’s fun, exciting, and there truly is a best-fit school (or several) for everyone.

You'll find many school search resources, plus college profiles, ratings and rankings for hundreds of great schools on our website at