I would be lying if I told you that my journey to pick a college was easy, but I did learn a lot along the way and have continued to learn even more working on the other side of the process as an admissions counselor. Today, I thought I’d share some of my insights and tips with you.
First off, I think it is important to take a deep breath! Searching for a college should be a fun process, not a stressful one. Everything will work out, and you will find the right place for you! In the end, it turns out that there is no one perfect school for anyone. Rather, there are a lot of great colleges out there that could be a great fit. All you have to do is find them! Below you’ll find some of my personal tips for finding a great college home:
- Start broad. There are so many different types of colleges out there to consider! Narrow down your options based on general constraints. A few examples of what you should be thinking about are:
- Size: Do you want to go to a big college? A small college? Somewhere in between?
- Distance from Home: Do you want to stay close or spread your wings a little?
- Location: Do you want to live in a big city or a small town? Is the weather going to be a big factor to you? Do you like warmer climates? Can you see yourself living somewhere colder?
- Learning Style: Do you like the idea of small discussion-based classes? Or are large lecture-style classes more your speed?
- Housing: What types of dorms are available? Do you want to go somewhere where most students live on or off campus? Is housing guaranteed all four years?
- Consider potential majors. One important thing to consider is if a particular school offers what you want to study—if you know. Even schools with great reputations can’t offer every major out there, so it’s important to narrow down your choices based on your interests, not based on the reputation of the school. Some schools require students to select a program upfront, which can be awesome for folks who are totally decided on their plans, but can feel a little much for students who will want lots of flexibility of choice. Other schools have more open options—don't rule these out even if you are decided about your path! The opportunity to take classes outside of your major (or have the option to change your mind if needed—yes, it does happen even for the most decided students in the world!) can still be beneficial for many. That being said, don’t stress out if you don’t know what you want to study yet (I sure didn’t!). Instead, consider if the school has support systems in place that will allow you to explore different areas and figure out what you want to do.
- Ask yourself if you will be happy. While academics are certainly an important part of college, they are not the only part of a college experience. It’s really important to consider whether you can see yourself being genuinely happy in a particular school’s environment. Can you see yourself joining different clubs on campus? Does the college promote a type of community (both academically and socially) that fits your values and desires? If there is one part of the process where you need to trust your gut most, this is it! If something seems like a red flag when you’re visiting a college, chances are it’s something that will bother you later on once you become a student.
- Explore post-grad opportunities. College is only four years, and you have so much more of your life to live after it’s over. With this in mind, you’ll want to consider if a particular college will be able to set you up for success. What are their career resources like? Do they have programs that will allow you to create connections during college? What kind of support do they offer to students who want to apply to grad school? While your college graduation may seem like it’s a long way off, these are good questions to consider as you are picking a college home.
- Consider your finances. College can be a huge commitment for you financially. It is important to do your research to see what financial programs schools have in place to support you and your family. What is their need-based aid like? Does the school offer merit scholarships, and, if so, how big are these merit scholarships? What are their work-study opportunities like? Most schools offer Net Price Calculators on their websites, which allow you to estimate the amount of financial aid you can expect to receive. These calculators can be great starting points for determining how affordable a school will be for you.
- Don’t be afraid to use resources in your school, home, or community! We know not every school has a dedicated college counselor, but we definitely encourage you to engage with your school counseling department to see if there is someone who can walk you through some college options, help you meet local alumni or graduates who have attended schools you’re looking at, or get connected to community-based organizations in your area that can help with the college process too.
There are definitely more things to consider when choosing a college (it’s a big decision), but hopefully this list can at least get you started. All of this boils down to two very simple ideas: Will you be successful at a particular school and will you be happy there? Not every school is perfect for every person. One school could be great for one person and not-so-great for another. It’s your job to be introspective and decide for yourself where you want to spend the next four years of your life after high school. As long as you are genuine and true to yourself about want you want and—more importantly—what you need throughout the college search process, you will find a great match!