Smaller colleges tend to have smaller class sizes with more direct interaction with professors and more emphasis on teaching than on research. Classes may be more discussion based. A sense of community may develop very quickly. You will have to compete less with other students for classes and campus facilities.

Larger colleges may have more Division 1 sports, a wider range of classes, more on-campus activities, and larger research facilities including specialized equipment. Classes may be bigger with more focus on listening than on discussion.

Any statements about size are generalizations. Look at statistsics about class size and student-to-faculty ratios. Some large schools maintain low student-to-faculty ratios and offer small classes. Some large schools may also have honor programs or residential colleges that provide a sense of community and combat that lost-in-the-crowd feeling. Some small schools may operate within a consortium of nearby schools that allow you to take classes at other institutions thereby extending the range of available classes.

Links for further reading:

Collegexpress: Comparing Public Colleges: Big vs. Small Schools
Big Future: Sizing Up Colleges: Big vs. Small

Choose an undergraduate enrollment calculation:


The desirability of a college location is extremely subjective. Some college search engines will ask your preference for urban, suburban, or rural, which is extremely reductive. A college may be in an urban setting but have large grounds that make the college feel less urban. Giving some thought to what you want in a location, researching the college's location, and, if possible, visiting the campus are all important. Also consider whether weather is an important factor for you. Do you want seasons, snow, or sun?

Look up the college's score for location on Niche.
Google what a city is known for. Check its population.
Look at a map to see what is nearby.
Research typical weather, seasonal temperatures, and preciptation

Some things you might care about:

In a particular part of the country

Close to home

Far from home

Good weather (sunny, not humid, four seasons, etc)

In a particular setting (suburban, rural, urban)

In a college town

Nearby culture (museums, theaters, concerts, etc)

Possibility for interesting outings nearby (beach, hiking, mountains

Near an airport with direct connections to my home town or to travel easily to other locations

Proximity to nature (ocean, lakes, nature preserves, desert, forest)

A feeling of safety and self-enclosure away from city hustle and bustle

Affordable off-campus housing

Professional sports teams nearby

Ease in getting off-campus (school shuttle, public transporation, bike path)

In or near a city known for certain activities, politics, art, or other

Likely to find internships in my field in this area

Links for further reading:

Why Does College Location Matter?


Diversity on college campuses is hard to define and hard to capture through publicly available data. For instance, LGBTQ data, information on religious diversity, and diversity in political perspectives is scarce. The scores for diversity provided here are limited to race/ethnicity, indications of economic diversity, and variety in background, such as older students, veterans, and first-generation college students.

In light of these data limitations, you may wish to research colleges further to discover if the type of diversity you seek is encouraged and supported by the college leadership and the student body. If your findings suggest that the diversity that you would like is found in abundance or absent, then use the override score to adjust the diversity score. Use the Notes area to remind yourself of why you altered the score.

Links for further reading:

Society for Health Psychology: How Diversity on Campus Benefits All Students
CollegeXpress: Defining Diversity


No one should decide on a college by ranking alone, since a ranking is a generalized assessment of an institution. It does not account for your individual needs and preferences. A ranking may reflect a college's reputation and the quality of its academics, research, and facilities. By including ranking as one factor among others in determining your match score, you are leveraging research conducted by others, which is convenient.

A college ranking also says something about prestige and name recognition. Future employers may recognize and be impressed with the college listed on your resume. The rankings provided here come from a range of sources and have been averaged. The rankings, depending on the source, may go up to 100 or all the way up to 800.

If your major at a particular school is ranked differently than the school overall, use the override to alter the score.

Links for further reading:

PrepScholar: All the College Ranking Lists You Should Read


How much to pay for college is a highly personal decision informed by your family's finances, how much debt you are willing to take on, and the degree to which you see college as an investment. The net price is the most important number to evaluate. Due to financial aid, the net price will vary based on your family's income. For the most accurate representation of cost, use a college's aid calculator.

Some colleges meet 100% of need with a financial aid package covering the cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, books) minus expected family contribution. Some colleges may also offer merit-based aid, such as scholarships. Another cost-saving factor stems from college credit for AP exams, which may reduce the amount of time that you attend college (or allow for a reduced class load). When looking at college as an investment, consider the average salaries of a college's graduates ten years after graduation.

Links for further reading:

College Board: How to get the best estimate of your college costs
Payscale.com: College ROI
EdSurge: New Approaches to Calculating College ROI

Input your family income here:

Family Income:

Campus Life

The quality of life on campus is influenced by material and cultural factors. First, there are the creature comforts and aesthetic joys of a beautiful campus with lush grounds, comfortable dorms, and fabulous food. You may want to know if freshmen have guaranteed houseing and if they are required to live on campus. Virtual campus tours, such as www.youvisit.com typically include views of dorms, eating halls, the student union, and athletic facilities, as well as providing an overall sense of the campus. Another resource, Niche.com, provides a grade for campus, dorms, and food.

While any campus, particularly larger ones, will have various smaller communities of students with similar interests, a campus may have an overall culture as well. You should seek out information regarding whether that culture involves political activism, team spirit for college sports, a large number of students joining sororities and fraternities, a high-pressure competitive environment, or a reputation for being a party school. Niche can be a resource for this type of information, as well as the Fiske Guide. As you research, use the notes area below to track your findings. Assign a score of 1 to 5 based on how closely each campus's culture and other features match what you are looking for.

Links for further reading:

US News: 12 Questions to Ask About Campus Safety
CollegeVine.com: How can I figure out a school's culture without visiting?
Business Insider: The 15 best college dining halls
Architectural Digest: The 50 Most Beautiful Colleges in America
Princeton Review: Best Quality of Life


Maybe you know exactly what you want to major in at college or maybe you're still soul-searching. If you know your intended major, then you may have identified the colleges on your list by searching for colleges that are known for strong programs in your major. In that case, you may choose to base your scores for this criterion on the strength of the program.

If you plan to apply to some schools with a major chosen, then conducting a search for the name of a college and "undergraduate majors" should get you to a page that lists all of a college's majors. This is a great way to see if certain degree programs sound interesting. In many cases, you can learn more about the classes required for that major and professional opportunities related to that major.

Use this space to include the link to undergraduate majors pages and to include notes about what major you'd pursue at this school or things that make your chosen major appealing at this institution.

Links for further reading:

Zety: How to choose a major
My Majors: College Majors
Best Value Schools: Design Your Own Major

Teaching and Resources

How much of a college's resources will be available to you? Arguably, one of the most precious resources at a college is its teaching staff. If a college has small classes and a low student-to-faculty ratio, then chances are that you will have the opportunity for personal attention from your professors. This can improve learning outcomes and provide opportunities for collaboration. If you are more interested in staying anonymous or prefer non-interactive lectures, then this may not be your thing. As a metric, it may be useful to know that 18:1 is the average student-to-faculty ratio.

Other data are provided here to contribute to a fuller sense of a college's dedication to teaching. For instance, you may want to know about the caliber of the faculty. While this is difficult to quantify, colleges that compensate their professors well may be able to attract talented faculty. For that reason, average salary is provided, although that number should be taken with a grain of salt, knowing that STEM professors and research-focused staff may be paid more than liberal arts professors focused on teaching.

At an institution that does not emphasize teaching, part-time staff may be brought in to teach undergraduate classes, so look for a high percentage of full-time professors.

The final three data points provided here try to paint a picture of how much a university may be investing in you. This may be tuition dollars spent on you or funding from an institution's endowment. An endowment is built in part from generous alumni donations and is spent on campus maintenance and other types of investment. An endowment can also fund professorships. A high number of endowment dollars per student also suggests financial stability.

Links for further reading:

ThoughtCo.: Learn What the Student to Faculty Ratio Means
College Cliffs: How Important Is "Student-Faculty Ratio"?
College Raptor: Does the size of a class in college matter?
Inside Higher Ed: Much Ado About Class Size
Schools.com: Five reasons why class size matters


College is not just classes and dorms. Many schools will have additional programs and services that can be extremely appealing. For instance, some schools attempt to build connections with the community through service opportunities. A college might mandate or offer co-op and internship opportunities, which help students to make connections between their academic studies and a future profession. This can be an opportunity to discover whether your prospective professional path will be fulfilling or whether you need to do some course correction. Schools might also provide different types of counseling to help you at various points within your educational journey: special programs for undecided majors to identify their area of study, counseling and tutoring when the going gets tough, and career counseling as graduation approaches.

For many students, study abroad is a defining experience. Some colleges make it easier by ensuring that appropriate classes are available during your time abroad, so that you can still graduate in four years. You may want to look at what percentage of students study abroad, what countries/locations are offered, and whether the college manages its own campus in an overseas locale or provides opportunities to take classes in other universities.

Honors programs or honors colleges can act like a smaller college within a larger school, with rigorous requirements and a cohesive culture. Many honors programs have stellar reputations, such that having it on your resume may give you a boost when applying for jobs and/or graduate school.

Some things you might care about:

Study abroad

Career counseling

Honors colleges or programs

Career counseling and placement



Extracurriculars: band, radio station, choral groups, etc

Programs to help freshman pick their major

Service learning

Undergraduate research opportunities

Senior capstone projects

Tutoring, ELL, and disability support

First-year experiences

Learning communities

Sports - club, intramural, division 1-2-3

Student organizations

Links for further reading:

US News Best Colleges: Programs to Look for
25 Reasons to Study Abroad
Student Organizations
US News Best Colleges: Why Undergraduate Research Matters


Freshmen may choose to leave a college for any number of reasons, but they tend to stay because they feel like they're receiving a valuable experience. Many colleges provide a welcoming environment and offer services to help freshmen through the issues faced in their first year away from home. These factors keep retention percentages in the 90s as opposed to the lower end of the spectrum (60s). As important, or perhaps more important, is whether a student gets what s/he enrolled for: a diploma. Graduation rates for a cohort can be measured at four years or for longer durations, knowing that some students may choose to take a little longer. A double major or a full year in a study abroad program may lead to requiring more than four years, or taking fewer classes at once (possibly even retaking some classes to keep a high GPA to get into medical school) are a couple other reasons for a later graduation date.

The percent of students admitted who enroll is provided here as a point of reference but is not used as part of the retention/graduation subscore. This statistics generally reflects the level of excitement around going to this college among the students who were accepted.

Links for further reading:

College Vine: Why is freshman retention important?
College Transitions: Retention and Graduation Ratios
DIY College Rankings: The Difference Between Graduation Rates and College Retention Rates


In a normal year, predicting with total accuracy which schools you would get accepted at is difficult. The fact that we are coming out of a pandemic year when extracurriculars may have played less of a role and when colleges are experimenting with test-optional and test-free policies makes things even more difficult to predict. GPAs also add an element of opaqueness. Many colleges recalculate GPAs using their own formula. It is difficult to know whether what they publish as their average is weighted or unweighted. The calculations used here are primarily based on GPA and on test scores (if you indicate that you intend to send test scores). A lot of schools are test optional, which means you don't have to send in your test scores if you don't want to. Some are test blind, which means that they will not look at your test scores (although some will look at AP scores as a sign of academic preparedness).

It's important to note that because these numbers are based almost only on test scores and GPA, they here may not be entirely accurate. If you feel like you have a better chance at getting into a school than what we've calculated here, you can add a "boost" onto both your SAIL and SWIM scores, which will raise both of those scores. If you are a stellar athlete, have some outstanding achievement, or are a legacy at a college that honors legacy status, then using the boost function may make sense. These numbers shouldn't be the only thing you use to decide how likely it is that you'll get in; they're more of a starting point and there are lots of topics and resources you should use to research further. For example, the Common Dataset has data from a lot of colleges, including things like test policies and the most important factors considered in admission. Another good resource is Naviance, which lists the test scores and GPA of students from your high school who applied to a certain college, as well as whether they got in, were rejected, or were put on the waiting list. Lastly, Niche.com is a good resource. If you have an account, it can show you a scatterplot for each college of students who applied and their GPA and test scores, as well as how you fit in on that plot. It also calculates the percentage of students accepted to a certain college that you have a higher GPA or test scores than, and it can do the same thing for each major at that college.

Another point is that just because a college or university doesn't score high on the SAIL and/or SWIM scores but it does on the FLOAT doens't mean you can't get in or that you shouldn't apply. College acceptance is about more than the numbers. As described in one of the article links, you can use the numbers and any other pertinent information to understand whether a school is in the safety, target, or reach category. You should apply to some schools in each of these categories.

Links for further reading:

US News: What students should know about the GPA scale
College Vine: Safeties, Targets, and Reaches

Input your academic information here:

Test Scores:



It's a toss-up as to which part of the process is most difficult: choosing which colleges to apply to, actually applying, waiting to hear back, or deciding which college to attend. If you have reached this tab after researching your top 25 colleges, then you may have chosen the colleges to apply to. The first big decision of this next phase of the process is whether to apply early decision or early action at any of your chosen colleges. Be sure you understand the differences and the implications.

For each school that you intend to apply to, research the application requirements. Investigate whether your schools use a shared application like Common App or their own application. Even with Common App, your school could require supplemental essays. It's okay if a few of your decisions are still in flux. For instance, if you are applying to one University of California school, you may find that it is very easy to apply to more than one UC school due to the shared application.

Be aware that policies around test scores may still be solidifying as we transition from pandemic times to a vaccinated nation with coronavirus under control. Information is provided below, but check admissions websites. Some colleges will send out reminders and tips using email or social media channels. Signing up will ensure that you get the latest information and that you show up on their "interested" list.

Top Four Colleges in Each Category

Total Colleges: 27

Any college that accepts less than 10% of applicants should be considered unpredictable.

Top Four Reach Colleges

Total Reach Colleges: 8

Name Research FLOAT Category Acceptance Rate
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 50% 94.34% Reach 7%
Harvard University 50% 91.95% Reach 5%
University of Chicago 0% 89.19% Reach 6%
Yale University 0% 87.86% Small Reach 6%

Top Four Target Colleges

Total Target Colleges: 9

Name Research FLOAT Category Acceptance Rate
Johns Hopkins University 0% 86.81% Target 11%
Northwestern University 0% 85.68% Target 9%
Carnegie Mellon University 0% 83.05% Target 15%
University of Pennsylvania 0% 82% Target 8%

Top Four Safety Colleges

Total Safety Colleges: 10

Name Research FLOAT Category Acceptance Rate
Boston University 50% 78.94% Safety 19%
University of California, San Diego 0% 72.18% Safety 31%
University of California, Berkeley 0% 70.28% Safety 16%
Worcester Polytechnic Institute 50% 69.38% Safety 49%