How to Choose the Right College
Congratulations! Your acceptance letters have started arriving! By now you have made campus visits (hopefully) and asked tons and tons of questions. You have narrowed down your list to your top choices. How do you make that final decision? Picking a college is hard. For most, this will be your first major adult decision, and finding the right fit is an important indicator of your future success. What is the “right fit”? There is no single answer to that question. What is “right” for one student will be different for everyone.
The first step would be to make a list. Yes, it sounds cliché, but making a list of your priorities will help you focus on what is truly important to you. Academics may seem like the obvious top priority on the list, because it is one of the most important. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you should have a basic idea of the direction you want to go in. By the way, IT IS OKAY to go into your freshman year undeclared. This will give you an opportunity to “test” the waters and get an idea of what your possible majors are all about. Just make sure that when you wish to officially declare your major, it is offered in your school.
Basic criteria, like location and size of school may or may not be important to you. Do you want to be close enough to home that you can come home weekends and holidays? In the field of study, you are interested in, is it more beneficial for you to be in a specific area of the country as opposed to other areas? An agronomy major might do well in a small town, but a fashion design major might be better off in a big city environment. And speaking of small town versus big city, that may be another factor you want to consider. Are you comfortable riding subways and buses and being in crowds, or do you prefer a quieter atmosphere. What about climate? Do you want sunshine and warmth, or do you enjoy the change of seasons?
Gender ratio, extracurricular activities, Greek life, events, campus surroundings, and places to hangout on campus are all important, and you can easily find information here on Accepted to School. If you love to hike and be outdoors there’s options for that, and if you love the city, there are options for that too.
What about the size of school? Is it important to you to know everyone in your major, or would you prefer being part of a crowd? Do you want to be in a cutting-edge research university where some classes might be taught by grad students, or would you prefer being in a smaller college where the professors know you by name? Is the chance to study abroad important to you, and does the school you are interested in offer that opportunity (check out our section on studying abroad for more information on this exciting, once in a lifetime experience)?
No one can tell you which of these criteria are important to you. Everyone is an individual, with individual expectations. It is important for you to decide what tops the list for you.
One last topic to consider is cost. It may not be the most important factor, but it can be a limiting factor. The cost of your degree is not limited to tuition, room and board. There are lab fees, books and other miscellaneous costs to consider. Luckily, there are a variety of ways you can decrease these costs before you apply for a student loan. The obvious way is to apply for scholarships and grants. Make sure to check with the schools for information on them, as well as financial aid. They also might have work-study programs, or offer paid internships in your field of study.
Finally, as with any investment, before you make your final decision, do your homework. Look at the graduates in your field of study and see where they are now. Did they get into graduate programs? Did they find employment in their chosen profession? Look at the alumni network. Can they help with job placement? Is it an active association? Can they assist you with internship programs?
It may seem like a daunting process, but the next four years can be a wonderful, enriching experience. Enjoy the process.