There are 4,000 colleges in the United States. Somehow, the 16 million students currently enrolled in a higher education institution managed to narrow it down to just one. How did they choose a college?
For some, it just felt right and that was it. For others, finding the right school was a huge undertaking. It is important to look at the whole picture before making your college decision. It can be daunting, but it can also be a very fun process.
Of course, it’s also important to realize how your college decision will impact your future. This is an opportunity to make an investment in you. The other big investments in your life, like buying a car or a house, aren’t necessarily forever—but “Education: XYZ University” will be on your résumé for the rest of your career. That résumé will help you land your dream job and attain a salary to support your family and way of life. The experiences (work, clubs, organizations, internships, etc.) that you have while at college will also help you find your first job or get into a top-choice graduate school.
That’s a lot to think about! When you are trying to make this decision, focus on the factors that are important to you. Different characteristics about a school are going to be more or less significant to different students, depending upon their situations. Here’s a good list to start with:
How far do you want to be from home? Try playing out different scenarios in your mind and visit the different schools to see how comfortable you are with the trip back and forth.
Availability of major
This can be a deciding factor for many students, especially if their major isn’t offered everywhere. If you’re not quite certain what you want to major in, make sure the school has many options that interest you.
Scholarships and financial aid
You do need to be prepared to make an investment in yourself, but you should also make sure that you’re comfortable with whatever debt you will have after college—and that you will be able to pay it back at a reasonable rate.
What is going to occupy your time outside of class? Are there clubs, organizations, athletic teams, music, or theater groups that interest you? This is a great way to meet people and really make a difference on your campus!
Fit and feel
This is the big one. If you’re miserable at the school, then it doesn’t matter if it has a #1 ranked program or that you’re going there for free. Pay attention to those random thoughts in the back of your mind while you’re on college visits. For example, do you feel comfortable talking with the people, walking around campus, and sitting in the classrooms? Ultimately, can you picture yourself as a student there?
There are so many categories that can be assessed; these are just the most common. People decide on schools for a wide variety of reasons. If the quality of the science labs is important to you, or the proximity to a coast, or the availability of intramural badminton—put it on your list! You are the only one who can really determine which school is the right choice.