25 Things to Consider When Choosing a College
Four years of hard work, standardized tests and extracurriculars have led up to this moment. You have a few college acceptances in hand, and now it’s time to choose which one you’ll attend. It’s exciting to have options, but it’s also a little scary. The important thing to remember is that no school is perfect, but by considering a few major factors, you can find the school that’s the right fit for you.
The first (and most obvious) factor in many college decisions is cost. But looking at tuition might not be the best way to gauge how much you’ll actually spend. There are a few other things you should consider.
- Cost of Living - The cost of living in Washington, D.C. is much different than, say, Raleigh, North Carolina. By looking at the cost of living, you can factor in the money you’ll spend on groceries and potential rent.
- Cost to Travel Home - It may be cheaper to go to a college farther from where you live, but factor in the money you’ll need to spend on plane/train tickets in order to visit home.
- On-Campus vs. Off-Campus Housing - Some schools require you to live on-campus for a certain number of years. On-campus housing, while more convenient, often costs more than living off-campus. Make sure to check how long you’re required to live on-campus.
- Greek Life - At some colleges, a vast majority of students participate in Greek Life. If you’re planning on joining a sorority or fraternity, factor the cost of dues into your budget.
- Scholarships - If you have your heart set on a school, but the financial aid is low, research specialized scholarships offered by the university. Each university has its own set of scholarships. Many aren’t publicized but can significantly help offset costs.
- Work-Study and Campus Job Opportunities - Look into the university’s work-study availability, and research what kind of areas you would be able to work in on campus. A work-study or on-campus job can help you pay for college while also providing opportunities for career development.
Whether or not a school has your preferred major isn’t the only thing you should think about when choosing a school academically.
- Professional Schools - If you have your heart set on a professional school within the university (such as nursing school, business school, etc.), make sure the university has other options that you’re also excited about. It’s tough to think about, but if you don’t get accepted into that professional school, you want to have other options that will set you up for success.
- STEM vs. Liberal Arts - Don’t know what you want to do yet? That’s okay. Looking at the overall leaning within programs at a university can help you make a decision. Are you more interested in liberal arts? Wanting to do research? Looking for a strong science department? Use these factors to help you decide.
- Prestige vs. Specialization - It can be tempting to pick a school based on overall prestige. However, schools that may be less prestigious or well-known have specialty programs that are well-known within their fields. Don’t just look at the overall GPA of admitted students, look for prestigious programs within the school.
- Study Abroad - Dreaming of studying abroad? Research the study abroad options before you choose a school. Your major requirements might not have enough space to study abroad, or the programs offered in certain countries might be limited. It can vary from university to university.
- Alumni Network - You might feel like you’re a long way from becoming an alumnus, but it’s good to go into college aware of the thing that will help you the most when you graduate — connections. How strong are the alumni networks of various programs and organizations? How can relationships with professors and faculty help you in your post-grad job search?
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College is a time of immense personal growth. It’s a time to expand your worldview, grow into an adult, and figure out what you’re interested in. As you choose a college, consider how to set yourself up for success.
- Diversity - College is a time to learn about perspectives different from your own. If a college has a homogenous student body or a student body that is exactly like you, you’re not going to be challenged as much as you could be somewhere else.
- Internships - You can gain valuable experience as an intern during the academic year or summer. Check out the college’s career office to learn if they offer resources to help students secure internships such as relationships with local companies.
- Tours Aren’t Everything - Every college looks amazing on a tour. But take some time to talk to real students. Have they felt supported by the faculty and students at the university? What is the community like? Will it be a place that sets you up for success?
- Speakers and Visiting Professors - Check out the speakers, visiting professors, and artists that have visited each college. Does the university invite talented, exciting people to engage with its students?
- Extracurricular Activities - Check out the student organizations at each school to see what you might like to get involved in. If you love playing soccer, but one school doesn’t have intramural tournaments, that could hugely impact your personal experience.
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Things You May Think Don’t Matter
These last few things may seem a bit silly, but they’re the things that will make a difference in your day-to-day college experience. Don’t leave them out!
- Surrounding City - Is the school in a college town or a big city? Is it far away from anything else? Does it have the mountains or beach nearby? You might not think this matters but being in the surrounding city is what you’ll be doing whenever you’re not in class — which is a lot.
- Weather - Most college students walk to class. If you’re looking to go to college in a chillier (or very warm!) state, make sure you can handle it!
- Sports - If you’re a sports fan, a college with a great team can heighten the college experience. Be honest with yourself — is it important for you to be able to go to football or basketball games?
- Food Options - If you have any kind of dietary restriction, make sure to check how the dining halls and on-campus food options fit into your existing diet.
- Car and Public Transportation - Does your school let you have a car on campus? Are there parking options available? If not, how are the public transportation options? When you’re a freshman without a car and need groceries, you’ll want to have looked this up in advance.
How to Consider Everything
Okay, we know that reading all those different factors is A LOT. Here are a few ways to make the decision process manageable.
- Make a Pros and a Cons List - Not every school is going to fit perfectly in every category, and that’s okay. Create a pros and cons list for the schools you’re considering and try to keep the bigger picture in mind.
- Talk to Current Students - A lot of this information is hard to find, but any current student will know it off the top of his or her mind. Use current students at the university as a resource! Ask questions.
- Rank What’s Most Important to You - If you’re still overwhelmed by all of the different factors, pick five that are most important to you. Then, only compare those factors when looking at schools. Make the process work for you!
- Remember that College is What You Make of It - The truth is, there probably isn’t a school that’s a perfect fit. But college is all about what you make of it. If you go in flexibly and willing to learn, you can have an amazing experience almost anywhere.
Now that you know what factors to consider, all you can do is make the best decision you can with the information available to you. We believe in you, geniuses!
Celine Ives is a college student who enjoys playing field hockey, cuddling with her dog and cheering on her Carolina Tar Heels.