It’s about that time of year… those of you who are juniors or seniors this year, or who took a little break after high school, are probably beginning your college search. With thousands of colleges all over the U.S., all of which offer different majors, programs, and activities, are located in big cities, small towns, and rural areas, and have anywhere between 200 and 20,000 students… how on earth are you supposed to pick just ONE? How do you know what’s right for you? If you’re stressing out and don’t know where to begin, here are some tips for you:
- Curriculum: The whole purpose of going to college is to get a degree that you’ll use to get a job, so obviously the thing you need to consider first is what majors the college offers. If you already know what kind of career you want, make sure they have a major that will get you there. But even if you think you know what you want to do, keep in mind that most students change their major at least once, so it’s a good idea to have a couple back up plans. If you have no idea what you want to do, don’t worry… just think about the general direction you want to go in, like if you like the sciences or the social sciences, and make sure that they have some of those majors. Also, make sure they have good facilities for what you want to do. If you want to be an athletic trainer, make sure they have a good gym with lots of equipment, and a good athletic program.
- Location: Figure out if you want to stay close to home or go somewhere completely new. Also, take into consideration what kind of climate you want to live in for the next couple years. If you’ve always lived somewhere where it rains a lot, maybe you want to go to college somewhere warm, or vice versa.
- Size: Do you want to go to a small school where you’ll know just about everyone, or a big state school where you’ll see new faces everyday? Do you want campus to be small and be able to get everywhere in less than 5 minutes, or do you not mind if it takes you a little while to walk from place to place?
- Sports and activities: If you want to play sports in college, obviously you need to make sure they offer the sport you want to play. If you’re into music, make sure they have a band, choir, orchestra, etc. If you like sports but you don’t take them too seriously, see what kind of intramural sports they have. Also check out their clubs and other organizations and see if there’s some you might be interested in.
- Cost: Make sure you look at colleges that are within your price range. But also keep in mind that about 85% of college students get at least some kind of financial aid, so don’t be discouraged if you fall in love with a school that’s a little outside your budget.
- Financial aid: Again, about 85% of college students get at least some financial aid. Make sure you fill out your FAFSA to see if you qualify for government grants and loans. Also, see what kinds of scholarships different schools offer. Many of them off academic, athletic, and music scholarships.
- Religious affiliation: If you’re religious, do you want to go to a school where everyone shares your beliefs? Do you want to take religion classes and go to chapel? There are plenty of colleges out there for every religion and denomination.
- Visit the campus: This is going to be your home for the next few years, so make sure you love the campus and the town it’s in. Do you want to live in a big city, in the middle of a busy downtown area, or in a smaller town? What is there to do nearby? Could you see yourself living there and enjoying it? Do you like the look of campus, the academic buildings, and the dorms? You need a college that could feel like home to you, somewhere you feel comfortable.
- Talk to students and alumni: When you visit campus, talk to some students. They can tell you what they love about it and/or what they hate about it.
- Campus atmosphere: What is campus life like? Ask about what kinds of events they have throughout the year, like dances and holiday events. Are there some good study spots? Are there any fun things to do when you need a break from studying?
- Housing options: Check out what their on-campus housing looks like. Some colleges have old, run down dorms with small rooms and cruddy restrooms, and some have big, spacious rooms that look brand new. If this place is going to be your new home, you need to love it.
- Class size: Some schools have classes in big lecture halls with 300 students and one professor, while others limit there class sizes to about 20-30. If you want to develop relationships with your professors and make sure you get one-on-one attention, take their class sizes into consideration.
While you’re searching for colleges, http://www.collegeboard.org is a great tool. They have a college search engine that will narrow down your results using several filters like:
- Type of school (2-year, 4-year, public/private, school size, religious, single sex or coed)
- Location (by city or state, and rural, suburban, or urban)
- Housing availability (dorms, apartments, houses)
- Majors available, study abroad programs, internships, distance learning availability
- Sports and activities
- Financial aid available, tuition costs
As you can see, College Board is be a HUGE help in narrowing down your options!
Going to college will be one of the best experiences of your life. It’s supposed to be fun! Make sure they have the perfect major and programs for you, but also make sure you love the campus, the people, and the town you’ll be living in!