What’s most important in choosing a college? Here are the top criteria for one high school senior. See how your college search factors match up!
What is most important to me when I’m looking for a college? Should I just choose based on where I get the most money? What if I choose the wrong college?!?! If you are asking yourself any of these questions and can’t quite find a satisfying answer, then read on, my maturing friend.
From my experience, it’s easy to be waylaid by everything colleges have to offer prospective students. Each school has its own perks, like brand-new facilities, a star-studded staff, enviable internship connections, or dazzling organizations to get involved with.
Making the college decision is tough for everyone, so try narrowing it down to the basics. Here are the things that were most important to me in finding a college. I hope they’re helpful to you too.
Cost and financial aid
The issue of cost impacts nearly every student's college choice (except for maybe One-Percenters). Try not to be thrown off by those aforementioned college wow factors when evaluating how expensive a school truly is.
Make sure you know how much each college is supposed to cost you. Search the school websites to find their cost calculators. Keep in mind the cost given is an estimate, and it often includes extra charges that maybe you as an individual might be able to cross off or reduce. These might include campus parking stickers/permits (hint: find out if you can bike around campus and save some moolah), recreational and entertainment costs (if you find out you have to pay this fee, you at least might be more motivated to go to events on campus), and laundry (if it doesn’t stink, wear it again).
Room and board will be a big percentage of your college costs too, so really analyze your dorm options and decide what you’re looking for/need. Suite-style dorms seem to be big right now, and colleges charge more for fancier on-campus housing. Decide if you are willing to spend more on amenities or if you can roll with the simpler traditional dorms that you won’t need to sell a kidney for. Also, it may not be ideal, but you can consider if living at home and commuting to school might make sense for you (even just for a semester or two).
Finally, compare the financial aid offers you received from each college. They can be the tiebreakers between two colleges you absolutely love. Above all else, you need to figure out what you can pay and, if necessary, what you are willing to borrow money for. There’s a lot to keep in mind before you borrow student loans. And remember: you’ll be working to pay them off for a (long) while after you graduate.
Your university years are going to be some of the best in your life. You will have dozens of opportunities to get involved in basically anything you could want. College is your chance to discover your true passions—just prepare to be bombarded with extracurricular options.
In your college choice, you should think about what you’d like to get involved in: there’s Greek life, ROTC programs, professional clubs, volunteer opportunities, the classic intramural sport leagues, and tons more. Reach out to members of organizations you’d like to join, and find out how much time they will likely consume each week.
Related: How to Choose Your Best Greek Life
You’ll have to pick your extracurricular activities according to your schedule, and a part-time job will force even more restrictions. But even so, getting involved in college is of the utmost importance. Even if you’re considering a campus club unlike anything you’ve ever done before, go ahead and try it out.
Pro tip about college sports too: even if you’ve never found watching your high school sports teams entertaining, you should still go to some of your college team’s games if you can. It’s all part of the experience, and you might regret it if you don’t soak it all in.
This is the kicker. Post-graduation job placement is, in my opinion, the most important stat a college or university has. (Editor’s note: Just make sure you’re looking at job-placement rates related to students’ majors and/or intended careers. If a school includes every grad who got a part-time job in retail after they graduated in their “job-placement rate,” that’s going to skew the stat.)
Before deciding on a college, investigate your major’s program and try to talk to an admission counselor. Ask about how the university assists in finding internships, and weigh in the alumni network available from the school. I’ve heard many stories about internships turning into jobs, and real-world experience is—if you’ll allow me to impart the maximum amount of stress on this next word—critical.
Also, if you’re a future STEM major, inspect your possible college or university research programs, as these often look amazing on résumés and they experience is super valuable. Many employers want people who can jump right into the job, with minimal time lost trying to catch them up to speed with training.
Now it’s up to you
Your college of choice should be ready and willing to propel you to success; all you need to do is put in the work. So reach out to them and communicate your needs. Talk to admission counselors, recruiters, and the financial aid office. Don’t miss out on something because you were too afraid to send an e-mail. Seize your destiny!
Remember, there is no such thing as a “bad” choice when it comes to college selection. No matter school what you pick, you will eventually feel the pieces fall into place (and if they don’t, you can always transfer colleges, which isn’t as scary as it seems).
All that built-up college search stress will simply slide right off, and you can start looking forward to moving into college and capitalizing on that legendary unlimited meal plan some colleges require of freshman.
Trust me. This is ultra-cliché, but when the college fit is right, you’ll feel it.
What are your top college choice factors? Do you have any questions about Connor’s criteria? Leave a comment!