This or That: What to Consider Before Choosing a College

Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mar   2016



Stumped about where to attend college? Often people go right into choosing a school before taking into consideration all the facets involved. College is not simply where you are taking classes and studying—it is where you are going to eat, live, make friends, and most importantly, it is the place you will call home. This is why it is important to look at every aspect of the college—not just academics—before making a decision. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before choosing the college that is right for you.

Related: The College Search Process: Finding the Right College Match

In state or out of state?

Some people prefer to stay close to home, while others prefer to branch out and experience life truly on their own. Staying in state can mean a cheaper tuition, a shorter drive home, and a more familiar student body. Choosing a college out of state, however, could mean a better scholarship and a chance to reinvent yourself and make all-new friends. Both are excellent choices, and it all boils down to preference.

Small or large student body?

Again, there are pros and cons to attending small and large colleges. Think about the high school you currently attend. If it is a small high school, do you enjoy the closeness that you feel with the rest of your classmates, or do you dislike seeing the same faces every day? If the high school you attend is larger, do you like never having the same class twice with the same people, or do you crave a more intimate student body?

City or college town?

A quaint college town can make even a large school feel cozier, and a big city can make a small college feel livelier. It all depends on the type of atmosphere you prefer. A college town is said to provide the quintessential college experience, with up to 90% of the population consisting of college students. However, going to college in the middle of a city will never leave you bored, as there is always something to do, not to mention the night life is always thriving.

Studious or outgoing atmosphere?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to party—although I do urge everyone to manage their time wisely! On the other hand, the atmosphere you crave might be different. If you are a little quieter and prefer more of a private dorm life, there are definitely colleges that are more work than play. However, a social atmosphere might be more desirable to you if you favor studying in a group as opposed to alone. And of course, there are colleges that thrive off the motto “Work hard, play hard.”

Modern or old school?

New colleges pop up every year, but some have been standing since the 1700s. If you’re going into a career with technology, a modern school with shiny new machines and high ceilings might be right for you. History buffs might prefer an older school with the knowledge that every building on campus has a story. 

Private or public?

There are perks to attending both public and private colleges. For one, the tuition cost of a public college is discernibly cheaper. However, private colleges are often much more generous with scholarship money. The food is also said to be much better at private colleges.

North, South, East, or West?

Whether you are going out of state or staying in state, the location of your college matters. Taking things like weather, proximity to beaches, and culture in mind, the four corners of the United States are very different. You might be addicted to sweet tea and sunshine, in which case the South might be the way to go. However, if you prefer seeing snow on the ground in the wintertime, the North might be more suitable.

Liberal arts or STEM?

This again ties into what atmosphere you like and what areas of study you are considering going into. Being around people with similar interests is important in order to build connections useful to you later in life. English and history majors might prefer a more close-knit liberal arts college in contrast to math and science majors who may favor colleges that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math..

Once you have asked yourselves these questions, a picture of what college is right for you will probably become much clearer. And of course, it is important to keep in mind that these questions are not always either-or. There are plenty of colleges that can give you the best of both worlds when it comes to atmosphere, location, or size. But armed with a better idea of your likes and dislikes, it will be easier to narrow down your list of colleges. Happy searching!

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