As a Director of Career Services, I find deciding which college is right for you is much like researching a potential employer: it’s not so much about can you get in but, rather, is it the right fit for you? Take note, whether it’s your college career or real career, you are investing in your future, so choose wisely. Make sure you set yourself up for success and happiness with these five tips:
1. Read testimonials
Review websites, just like Yelp and Angie’s List, exist for higher education too. Search for and read student reviews to get a sense of what life is really like at a school—beyond what they tell you in an official campus visit.
2. Explore college websites
Turn to a university’s media, alumni, and student services webpages to read up on the latest faculty accolades, program highlights, fast facts, featured alumni, past and future events, student life, career services, and the university’s blog, if they have one. You’ll be sure to get a sense of their definition of success, what’s valued within the university and its culture. Then ask yourself, Do your values align with theirs?
3. Follow social media updates
Follow colleges’ complete social media networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and YouTube. They provide quick and effective insight into the benefits and culture of the school. You’ll also encounter informative dialogues between the college and current students, parents, and other stakeholders.
4. Find the college town that suits your personality
What’s important to you where you live, study, and play—not to mention potentially work after graduation? Make a list of your location needs and wants, from weather to local businesses to proximity to good Brazilian food. If you’re stumped, Find Your Spot offers a handy and fun tool (though you need to create a free account) that will show you the top 10 cities and towns that match your preferences; criteria include things like size of city, climate, culture, proximity to an airport, crime, and sporting events, just to name a few. You can then do in-depth research on surrounding higher education institutions. Imagine studying in your dream location, graduating, and then staying put.
5. Create your own college rankings system
Forget about the national “best colleges” lists. Instead, create your own college rankings to determine which schools best meet your unique criteria. Just as with college location, think about what you need and want from a school: majors, extracurricular activities, research opportunities, Greek life—anything! Need a little help? Michelle Kretzschmar, who has a background in data analysis (and a student in college), has a wonderful college blog and a valuable college spreadsheet that can help you find schools based on your own criteria to get the information you need to find the best college for you. It features over 1,500 public and nonprofit colleges and 200 variables.