Sometimes your body knows what’s best for you, like when it’s time to stop eating that cheesecake or what time you should fall asleep. The college admission process is no different. You’ll make a multitude of decisions that have the power to change your life—many of which have no correct answer.
Here are four ways to follow your gut instinct during the college search process.
1. Don’t put parameters on distance
In high school, I identified as an introvert, so I limited my options to schools within three hours of my hometown. A small-school environment seemed like an easy transition for my parents and me.
But as the college search wore on, I remembered the first time I traveled without my family (and how I cried when the trip was over). My gut instinct to stay close to home was wrong—I was underestimating my ability to step outside my comfort zone. I now happily attend at a college 500 miles away from home.
Not everyone is destined to fly across the country to attend college, but the same guidelines apply for everyone’s experience. Before researching schools, ask yourself a few questions: Are you eager to go on trips to visit family or have friends sleep over on campus? Are you comfortable without seeing your family for long periods of time? Is it possible for your family to pay for travel expenses? Are you comfortable traveling alone?
Understanding your preferences for distance will help you identify schools that offer the level of independence you’re ready for.
2. Try to observe a college’s landscape
It’s important to pick a campus you feel comfortable walking on at any time of the day or night. For example, my hometown is relatively rural, so I ruled out colleges spread out in large cities because I knew I would feel overwhelmed in large crowds instead of a traditional campus.
Experiment with different types of college campuses and anticipate the culture shock you’ll experience when moving to a completely new environment. Additionally, you should examine each student body to be sure you feel comfortable expressing your political, ideological, and social beliefs. You want to attend a school where you feel confident showing your authentic personality.
3. Don’t let the internet sway your perception of a school
During your college search, you should browse your potential schools’ websites to familiarize yourself with campus organizations and academic departments. You may also consider typing the name of your prospective universities into Google and seeing what news articles pop up. This is a simple way to see any accomplishments or shortcomings of a school.
Just remember to use the internet as a tool and take Instagram posts and tweets with a grain of salt. They provide a snapshot of students’ lives, but it isn’t exactly what your experience will be like.
4. Do understand different learning environments
Universities differ in size, price, and, most importantly, learning environment. Knowing how you learn best and in what kind of environment can really help your college search.
Liberal arts colleges offer degrees in a range from arts and sciences. In most liberal arts schools, all resources are dedicated to undergraduates—things like scholarships, research opportunities, and access to professors. Students are often required to take a wide variety of courses in their freshman and sophomore years before selecting a major. Classes are typically smaller in size (usually around 10–30 students), offering more time for discussion. This helps students become well-rounded critical thinkers in a variety of subjects.
Research-based and professionally focused universities typically offer more specialized programs. Students may begin studying their major during their first semester, though graduate students often teach sections of these classes. Bigger universities have class sizes ranging from 20–500 students. They may offer more prestigious travel, research, or internship opportunities, though these opportunities are often split between undergraduate and graduate students. Students typically apply with the intention of gaining admission to a particular major but may also arrive on campus undeclared.
You don’t need to have a dream school or career picked out to navigate the college search process. Just follow your instincts. Think carefully before submitting any essays, applications, or deposits to a school; if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! College is a precious step to your development, and you have the power (and right) to choose a school that excites you inside and out.
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