Tips to Consider When Choosing a College

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It’s the time of year when high school seniors have sent in their college applications and are waiting for acceptance letters.  Depending on the colleges they have applied to, they may already have gotten acceptance letters and are now trying to make the very important decision of choosing where to go.  These are my tips for choosing a college.

Tip #1: Look at your financial aid package.  Are there any colleges you know you definitely can’t afford?  As much as we want to pick the right college for us, if that college is going to land you tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) dollars in debt, it probably isn’t worth it.  If you haven’t already, this is the point you should really talk to your parents to determine what their expectations are in terms of paying for college.

Tip #2: Stats and facts about your college can be helpful, but don’t depend entirely on them.  Make sure you visit the colleges you are considering, and if possible, do an overnight.  The best way to determine if a college is for you is by visiting the college.  If you can, also try to sit in on a class within the major you are considering.  If you are comfortable, ask students around campus specific questions.

Tip #3: Think really hard about the kind of college experience you want.  Are there certain clubs and activities you really want to participate in college?  Maybe you are really interested in intramural or club sports or really love debating.  Make sure the college has those things.

Tip #4: Look at the strength of particular programs at the college.  If you are going for business, do they have a good business program?  If you are going into a field where accreditation is important, then be sure to check the program is accredited.

Tip #5: Consider your impression of the college when you visited. Did you feel comfortable there?  Did people seem friendly?  What was your gut reaction?  If you’re not sure and it’s possible, visit the college again.

Tip #6: Consider the size of the college.  There is obviously a huge difference in 20,000 students and 1,000 students, but there is also a pretty distinct difference between 1,500 students and 4,000 students.  While some people love huge colleges, I knew that I wanted a personalized approach, so I chose a college with only 1,200 students.  The bigger the college, the more likely that you will have large lecture classes and the less likely to have opportunities to get to know your professors and classmates.  Small class sizes often mean more discussion-based classes.  Know what works best for you and take that into consideration.

Tip #7: Don’t rule out a college just because it’s close to home.  If it’s a good college and has everything else you’re looking for, it might actually be a good choice.  That said, I do think distance from home is important to consider.  If you’re more than 3 hours away, chances are you will be unable to go home at any time other than breaks, so if you think you might want to take a weekend trip home every once in awhile, you’ll probably want to be closer than that.

Tip #8: Look at where the college is located.  Is it in the middle of a city or out in the middle of nowhere?  Are there things that college students might be interested in nearby?  If it’s located in a city or town, what is the surrounding area like?  Although I love my college, one of the downsides is that it is located in a pretty bad neighborhood and there isn’t easy access to hiking trails (something I would really love).  If you’re outdoorsy, are the outdoors really accessible?  If you love shopping, are stores close enough?

Tip #9: Don’t pick a college based solely on its academics, or solely on its size, or solely on the clubs available.  Just because a school is know for its academics doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love it (and the same goes for clubs/sports/the “type” of college/etc.).  Take into consideration all of the various aspects that make that college the college it is.  Is there good balance between everything?  Are you going to have access to a quality education and also be able to have a good time?

Tip #10: One of the most important things to remember is that life is often what you make it, so choosing the “right” college doesn’t really matter all that much.  Wherever you end up, make the most of this experience- pretty soon you’ll be off on your own in the real world!