Obviously, most high school students applying to college are focused on education. That’s why schools like Harvard and Princeton are in such high demand. However, if you’re going to be spending the next four years somewhere, it’s probably best to do some research beyond U.S. News & World Report rankings. Here’s what I’ve been factoring into my college search.
Like I said before, education is a key factor in your college search. It’s great to be in a competitive environment, but if you think you won’t be able to keep up, you should look for schools that won’t put you under too much pressure. On the other hand, if you’re looking to be challenged, search for schools that are known for being academically rigorous.
Another important thing to consider is the field you want to go into. For example, I am looking to work in business one day. The University of Texas in Austin has a Business Honors Program comparable to an Ivy League program. With in-state tuition, it’s similar to a private school education at a much more affordable price. Research schools that have strong programs for your major. Even the top schools have some programs that are not as strong as others.
2. Atmosphere/student life
Are you looking for a party school with lots of nightlife, or do you appreciate more quiet fun? Do you like small campuses where everyone knows one another or big campuses with more diversity? Are big cities exciting to you, or do you like a more suburban feel? These questions are important to keep in mind when looking for schools. Social media and current students, and alumni are great research tools. It’s useful to hear opinions from real students who aren’t trying to sell you admission. You also don’t want enroll in a school only to find out it doesn’t have the Greek life you were looking forward to or that amazing a cappella group you were hoping for. Of course, if your school doesn’t have an organization you’re looking for, you could always start it yourself!
Many prospective students forget that the schools they’re applying to could be their home for the next four years. It’s important to know about a school’s housing, food, transportation, and campus safety. A friend of mine at Rice University said she loves the school, but the food is not so great, and everything closes early. Make sure to research dining options, as well as the quality of the dorms and off-campus housing. Housing tours can be very useful if you have the opportunity to go on some. Also, if you plan on taking your car to college, make sure there is parking available, especially for freshmen.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to worry about cost when it comes to education. Unfortunately, price is a determining factor in many students’ college searches. Most families can’t afford to pay full price for a college education. Look into the financial aid policies at the schools you’re considering applying to. Public schools tend to be cheaper, especially with in-state tuition, but private schools often have more money for scholarships. If you don’t think you will receive much need-based support, look for schools that offer merit aid. However, even if you don’t think you will get any, it is always a good idea to apply for financial aid and file the FAFSA. Also make sure to apply for outside scholarships. And if you haven’t already done so, study for the PSAT and try to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship.
I know the college search can sometimes seem like a nightmare, but if you follow these tips, the next four years will make all this stress worth it. You can find a lot of useful information about colleges on their websites, or other sites such as Niche and CollegeXpress (our favorite) [editor’s note: thanks Saima!].
What’s important to you in your college search? Let us know in the comments!