Do you feel like you need to attend a “big-name” college to get the best education and to impress all of your friends? Stop for a moment and consider that college is not only about getting a great education. It is also a monumental life change that will open you up to new social experiences, a new level of personal growth and independence—not to mention a new level of hard work, studying and academic achievement. The personality and culture of the college you attend will affect your success in the future. Defining what is important to you in a college will allow you to narrow your options and help you discover alternatives that you may have never realized were available.
Each of us has unique wants and needs. What is important to you may not matter to some-one else. By identifying your desires regarding location, school size, cost, and other basic criteria early on, you can focus on the things that will make your school a perfect ﬁt.
A Good Approach
As you go through the process, we recommend sorting your school considerations into three categories: reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. It is beneficial to apply to one or two in each category to ensure you aim high but have solid back-up options where you know you will be happy and successful.
Reach schools are those where your grades, SAT or ACT scores, and class rank are in the lower end of the school’s requirements. Reach schools could be a financial challenge. In either case, it is worth applying. Many criteria influence acceptance, and high-tuition schools often offer better financial aid packages than less expensive ones.
Target schools are those where your academic credentials fall within the school’s average range. You can never be assured of acceptance, but your target schools should be those where you’re reasonably sure you’ll be admitted.
Safety schools are those where you generally out-perform the school’s average first-year student, and you’re almost certain you’ll be admitted. Keep in mind, you should only choose safety schools you’d be happy to attend.
Ten Considerations When Choosing A College
Most college-bound students already realize that the best schools tend to enroll students with the best grades and the highest test scores. You probably also are aware that there are some college names that are a lot more impressive on a sweatshirt than they are in real life. The real question that must be asked by all college-bound students, however, involves figuring out whether a school is right for you? There are some important details to consider when deciding which colleges and universities to apply for—and even more importantly, where to enroll! Sadly, many students don’t spend very much time thinking about this life-changing decision, and they may end up extremely unhappy as a result. This can even happen at schools that are very well respected—if the university is a poor match for a student, it really doesn’t matter how highly it is ranked. By taking the time to think about these things now, you’ll be able to hone in on the details that really matter to you… and with that information, you are far more likely to find the college or university that is right ﬁt for you.
1. Size of School
The fact is, colleges come in all sizes. They range from a tiny school in California that enrolls only 26 students to enormous institutions like Ohio State University, which has more than 60,000 students. So, which size is better? The answer to that question, of course, depends on you and your individual comfort zone. Consider the following questions: Did you go to a small or a large high school? Did you like the size of your high school? Did you grow up in a city or a rural area? Do you like being places where everybody knows you, or do you like the anonymity of a crowd? How much individual attention do you prefer from your teachers? All of these considerations may help you determine which size school is best for you.
2. Type of Institution
Some schools oﬀer a specialty in one specific area, such as engineering or writing. Others are best known for offering their students a broad, liberal arts education. It is also worth noting whether the schools have a particular religious affiliation, and whether they are public or private. Determine where your interests lie, and you will be able to find the types of schools that will be your best match.
There are colleges in every living environment you can imagine, from tiny college towns in Minnesota, to pastoral hills in Ohio, to the middle of New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles.
If you have always lived in the suburbs or a smaller town, choosing an urban campus could
seem like an adventure at ﬁrst glance. However, after a week of the noise and crowds, will you find yourself longing for a grassy campus with open spaces? On the other hand, if you are used to city life but choose a scenic college in a rural area, will you find yourself looking for any sign of noise, lights, and people? Think very carefully about where you grew up, what kinds of areas are the most comfortable for you, and how much of a change you want when
you head oﬀ to college.
4. Distance from Home
Closely tied to location is the issue of how far from home you want to be. For some people, going to college is a chance to explore a totally different part of the country. Other college students want to make sure they can have dinner with their family once a week, or go home to do their laundry. When deciding how far you want to be from home during college, think very seriously about how much money you can afford to spend in travel, not to mention how frequently you may feel homesick. The fact is that for most students, the farther you are from home, the less often you’ll be able to afford to visit.
5. Cost/Scholarships and Financial Aid
Naturally, not all colleges cost the same amount, and the costs can get rather confusing. In fact, there are even different types of financial aid available at different schools. People often hear about students who received a scholarship for their athletic ability, but those same kinds of offers may be available to other students who show their talents and hard work with their grades, musical talent, or other special abilities.
Public universities often oﬀer much lower tuition rates to in-state students, but their fees to out-of-state residents are usually pretty similar to private schools. On the other hand, private institutions charge everyone the same (usually higher) tuition, but they often have privately-funded scholarship monies available. Because of this, it’s worth applying to some private schools even if the cost seems high initially.
6. Student Population
Representing the population of the country and the world, college students are not all the same. Some institutions, particularly larger schools and those in big cities, tend to have a student body that hails from a wide range of ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. Other schools, especially smaller colleges and those in very rural locations, may have a fairly homogeneous student body. Other important elements of the student population include whether most students live at the school or commute, the age of the average student, and how many students are involved with sororities and fraternities.
7. Majors and Requirements
If you already have a good idea what ﬁeld you want to enter after college, it’s important to make sure you select a college that will best prepare you for your chosen profession. Some schools are particularly well known for excellence in specific majors, like pre-med or architecture. Attending one of these schools—and performing well there—will put you in a desirable position to pursue your career after you graduate. Of course, many entering college freshmen are not sure what they want to do with their lives just yet… in that case, a student may want to consider a school that offers a variety of options.
Universities and colleges will almost always require students to take classes in a wide range of areas during their first year or two. These schools are great for students who either want a well-rounded education or are trying to figure out what area to focus on. However, even more specialized schools will require a set of general education courses before they let students dive into their chosen majors. Compare these requirements between schools, as they may vary from place to place.
8. Athletics and Events
Are you an avid sports fan, or does the sound of a marching band and the sight of a football uniform make you cringe? At some schools, sports are a huge element of the social calendar in many students’ lives. Other schools may not have intercollegiate athletics at all, and others may not pay much attention to it even if the school supports teams. Bear in mind that the culture of intercollegiate athletics can vary substantially from one college to the next. Maybe you’re really into going to live concerts, or you might love nothing better than to go hiking in the woods. If you like to spend your free time going to shows at clubs, you probably won’t be happy at a small school in the countryside where relatively few popular musical acts stop on tour, and you might be happier in an urban environment. However, if you love to be outdoors, a campus in a natural setting can give you just the kind of balance you need to feel—and perform—your best.
9. Special Activities and Programs
Many students have always wanted to try living and studying in another country and experiencing another culture. A number of colleges oﬀer semester or year long study abroad programs. You’ll usually receive full credit for your academic work overseas, as well as enjoy the perfect chance to learn a new language, make new friends, and experience exotic scenery and cuisine. If you are a musician, a visual artist, or an aspiring journalist, then you want to consider schools that will not only fulﬁll your academic goals, but your personal interests and aspirations, too. Some colleges and universities have great arts and theater programs, or excellent newspapers, giving students a chance to be involved in extracurricular activities outside their majors. Others—especially commuter schools without a large, on-campus contingent of students—focus more of their attention on great classes, but there may not be as much else to oﬀer. There are also institutions created specifically for a type of study, such as conservatories of music, art schools, and other programs that can be perfect for the right student. Whatever you feel is important in your life to make your college experience well-rounded, should be explored up front in the college selection process.
10. Trusting Your Instincts
If a place “feels right” to you, that’s important to notice. Similarly, if it just “feels wrong,” no matter who wants you to go there or how good it looks on paper, that school may not be the ideal place for you. Selecting a college or university is an extremely personal choice, and after considering all the other objective factors, the fact of the matter is that it comes down to you. Visit colleges you are interested in, and see how you feel walking around their campuses. Once you get a true feel for the types of campuses—and the kinds of schools—that are the best ﬁt for your personality, lifestyle and goals, you’ll be well on your way to finding the college that is the right fit for you.