Choosing a college can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a particular major or career in mind. How do you know what college is a better match for you, and why? There’s no exact answer, but here are some factors to consider when looking at possible colleges.
Location is an important aspect. After all, it’s doubtful that you'd want to live in a city where an unbearable climate leaves you feeling miserable, or one where crime runs rampant. The size of the city is also something to consider. Small town, large city, rural area - which one suits your personality best? Consider what amenities the city offers: does it have everything you’d need?
Also, keep your family in mind. Is paying for your trips to visit them during breaks something your family can afford, or should you stay closer to home? Looking at colleges in cities that you can not only afford to live in but can afford to travel back home from are valuable factors you need to consider when making your final decision.
Cost and Financial Aid
You should consider if the price of education at your potential college options is something you can afford after accounting for scholarships, other forms of financial aid, and parental help. It isn’t just tuition; it also includes room and board, materials, transportation, and any other possible fees. Together, they can add another several thousand dollars to what you already have to pay, possibly limiting your college choices.
This is where financial aid comes into play, and can open up your options more than you thought was possible. Determine what scholarships, grants, and loans you qualify for, and which ones work best for you. However, some of these options will result in long term consequences. Make sure you understand what each one means for you and your future - for example, how long will it take you to pay off a loan? Is going to a certain college worth being in debt for years? Take into account whether the career you have in mind will allow you to quickly pay off this debt or over a longer period of time. The cost of education should be thought about in terms of short and long-term consequences.
Majors and Programs
The college you select should have classes and programs that both interest you and benefit you in terms of your major. It might be a good idea to go to a college with several majors that interest you in case you realize your chosen major isn’t working or if you’re still undecided. Schools offer many opportunities like studying abroad, researching, joining clubs and organizations, participating in sports, and much more - choose a college with programs and extracurriculars that interest you!
Smaller colleges often offer classes with fewer students per teacher, while larger schools tend to do the opposite. Consider what type of classes you’d rather have more of: lectures, discussions, seminars, labs, etc. What school environment do you learn the best in? If possible, visit the campus and sit in on a class. Speaking to the instructor and current students can help you decide if that college is the right one for you.
Reputation and Values
Examine the college’s reputation and values. Verify that it provides quality education and that it is accredited - this ensures that your degree will be accepted by employers. Does it matter to you if your college is well-known or not? If yes, you may find it helpful to consult ranking lists. You might want to explore their values as well: do they agree with your own beliefs?
It might be useful to make a list of the pros and cons of each school you’re interested in, using the factors above and any others you deem important. This will help you determine which colleges fit your goals, desires, and values the best. Acceptance rates might also influence your choice. After all, you have a greater chance of being accepted by colleges with higher acceptance rates.
How Many Should You Apply To?
While there’s no set number, it’s recommended that you apply to four to eight colleges. There should be several reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. This way, you’ll almost guarantee being accepted by at least one college, and you’ll have options if you’re accepted by several.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to decide by the time you graduate from high school. You can take your general education courses at a cheaper college and transfer to another thereafter. Transferring is also an option if a college isn’t working out for you; you're not forced to stay there! In the end, you should select a college that you feel will help you succeed the most, based on your criteria.
Written by: Ashley Sosa
Edited by: Meklit Tilahun