When factoring in all of the details involved in picking a college, many students don’t know where to start. It can be daunting; numerous students panic and overanalyze the fact that whichever college they choose will be where they would, potentially, spend the next four years of their life. But don’t worry—alarming yourself like that is unnecessary. Not every detail is crucial. For me, several things played a part in choosing where I wanted to go to school, but not all of them were weighted equally. Some aspects of the school I chose were more critical to me than others. It’s up to you to decide which aspects of your dream school are most important, and then find a school that most closely fits what you want out of your college experience. Here is a list of seven basic factors to consider when choosing a college:
If you already know your major, then this one is easy. You can narrow down your list of potential colleges by only looking at those that provide your major or family of majors. Consider colleges that not only offer your major but excel in programs that are specific to your major. For example, I want to major in international studies. So not only did I look for schools with an equivalent major, but I also looked for schools that had the best study abroad and foreign language programs. If you haven’t decided on a major, then consider the next six options and try to leave yourself as much room as possible to explore.
You should have a general idea of where you want to live, or at least which places are tolerable! This isn’t a big deal to some people (myself included), but it is nevertheless important to think about. Do you want to be close or far away from home? Do you want to go to school in a big city or in a rural area? Do you want to live in the mountains, by the beach, or neither? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. Take into account the average temperatures for the area, the seasonal changes, and yearly rainfall. To start, try looking at a map and narrow down which states or regions you might be interested in.
3. Public vs. private
Many of the differences between public and private schools are dependent on location. Regardless, what I can say is that everyone’s unique circumstances lead them a different way. Public schools are funded by the state, so they are limited in how much money they receive to provide students with financial aid. Private schools, while also generally smaller in population than public schools, can sometimes give more aid because of their private funding. However, the potential extra cost may be worth it if a public college has a good program for your major, or if you want to go to a really big school. You may also be interested in going to a religiously affiliated school, which will definitely be private. Look at the schools you’re considering and compare their financial aid packages, sizes, majors, etc. It’s all about balancing what is important, what you want, and what works best for you.
On that note, also think about how the size of your school will impact your experience. A large school means lots of people to socialize and interact with, but you might have to compromise your class sizes. If you want to have a closer relationship with your professors, you should go for a school with a high student-faculty ratio. Think about if you want to be part of a large, medium, or small student body. Do you want to walk through the halls and always see familiar faces or walk out every day into a big crowd? When you choose your college, you’re also choosing a community to move into.
When I say housing, I mean everything from how many people live on campus to any special dorm options. Most schools offer coed housing, while some offer single-sex housing. Not all schools offer single-sex housing for both men and women, so if this is important to you, make sure you ask on your campus tour or search on the Internet. Additionally, some colleges have theme housing, where each dorm has a different theme (like science, music, sports, etc.) to bring together residents with similar interests. Several schools also have wellness dorms, where you can avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking. If it applies to you, you may be interested in finding out if your school has apartments for married students. Finally, decide if you want to go to a school where most students live on campus or not. There are some schools that require all freshmen or even all undergrads to live on campus, but there are also many schools to which many students commute. If you are going to a school close to home, it might be in your best interest to save on housing costs by living at home. But if you are going to be living on campus, you should think about going to a school with a large group of students who also live on campus. This way, you won’t feel alone or isolated.
6. Sports and on-campus activities
Even if you only play for fun, look into the sports programs at schools you are considering. One of my friends played baseball in high school, and although he didn’t expect to, he ended up playing in college as well. He knew that baseball wasn’t going to be his future, but he still had fun playing on his school’s club team. I don’t play sports, but there are a few activities that are important for my dream school to have. For example, I want my school to have a dance program, a student newspaper, campus ministries, and a model United Nations. There are also such activities as orchestra and other bands, fraternities/sororities, choral groups, campus radio, and more.
7. AP credit
If you’ve taken AP classes, find out what is necessary to obtain credit from your college. Most, but not all, colleges accept AP credit in some form. Some schools accept only certain scores for certain classes. Additionally, some schools might only transfer credit as elective credit instead of the class they equate to. It’s not the end of the world if your AP classes don’t completely cancel out your gen eds, because they probably won’t. What is important is that you do get your money’s worth out of your AP credit. Try to find a school that will give you as much credit as possible, so you won’t have wasted money on all of those tests.
As I’ve already pointed out, you may not have a detailed plan for all of these things. I certainly didn’t. But even if you don’t care where your school is, or how big it is, you still have to make the decision for yourself that it doesn’t matter; which means you still have to think about it and picture yourself in that situation. If you’re not sure, just leave yourself open to the options. I found my dream school by considering these factors, and I hope you do too!