There are over 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States, and figuring out which ones you might want to consider attending can seem a daunting task. You can’t apply to all of them, much less find the time to visit and tour thousands of schools. I’m here to help you figure out how to break it down in order to create your personalized college list.
This is the final installment in Narrowing Your Search, a four-part mini-series in which I’ll dive into different factors to consider while choosing which institutions to apply to. I’ll talk about location, academics, housing, and extracurriculars. In this installment, I’ll talk about life outside the classroom and how it can impact the creation of your college list.
College isn’t just about what you major in and which classes you take. It’s about all the different ways you can choose to spend your time – and hopefully, your time isn’t entirely eaten up by the classroom.
Think about what you like to do when you have free time. Is there anything you particularly enjoyed in high school? If so, you can use that as a jumping off point to explore the options at various institutions. Is there something very specific you’re looking for (for example: you must go somewhere with a cheesemaking club)? If not, is it easy to start your own cheesemaking club? While this is a factor to consider, I’d caution against letting the lack of any one specific club be the singular deterrent from applying to a school. For guidance finding and choosing clubs to join once you’re already in college, check out my previous post!
I mentioned athletics in an earlier installment when discussing the size of the student body, but you might want to take a closer look at sports on campus if that’s something you’re going to be interested in once you’re there. Does the school have varsity sports, and if so, in which division, and for which sports? Are there athletic scholarships available? Are there club sports or intramural sports that you can join? These can serve as great options for students who want to participate in athletics on campus, but don’t want to commit to joining a varsity team.
Even if you’re not an athlete, oftentimes the presence of a strong athletic culture can be indicative of a certain kind of feeling on campus. For example, only a school with a football team will allow the opportunity to attend loud tailgate scenes and football games where everyone is wearing school colors. This isn’t to say that sports = school spirit, though. There are lots of other ways schools without a huge sports presence can show their school pride!
Something else to think about is Greek life – sororities and fraternities. Do you see yourself wanting to be a part of it? If so, make sure you do your research. Not all colleges offer Greek life, and even those that do can differ greatly in terms of how big of a presence they are on campus. For example, here at UChicago about 15%-20% of the student body is involved with Greek life. This means that if you’d like to join, it’s here for you! But if it’s not something you’re interested in, it’s not an overwhelming presence on campus.
If sports and Greek life aren’t your thing (or even if they are!), you might want to look at arts, music, and drama. If you want to study art academically, look up what kind of artistic majors are offered – not every school will offer everything. If you don’t want to, in your research, a good question to investigate is: what programs and resources are available to non-arts majors? Meaning, if you want to major in something like biology or economics or public policy but have a creative outlet on the side, what are you allowed to join? At some schools, any student can audition for a musical or have access to the paint studio, while at others, these may be reserved only for art majors.
At UChicago, the Logan Center for the Arts is open for any student to utilize, no matter what they’re studying. As a Public Policy major, I’ve classes in Logan such as Photography and Podcasting, and have access to darkrooms, painting studios, performance spaces, editing suites, and more. I love attending Digital Media workshops (for free!) and checking out equipment from what we call “the cage” – a place for students to borrow cameras, tripods, flashes, recorders, and more.
Anyway, all this is to say that as someone who wants to just dabble in the arts in college, I really appreciate having a space where I can do that! That said, stuff like this isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of other ventures to explore during your college years.
Another way to spend your free time is by getting a job. You can look at the various opportunities available for students. A common one at UChicago is student barista. We have a lot of student-run coffee shops, and they need students to run them! You can also determine if you’re eligible for Federal Work-Study, which serves as another way for students to pay for school through guaranteed jobs. Not every school participates in Work-Study, though.
Some schools have co-op programs, through which your studies will be interspersed with internships for significant chunks of time, helping you gain real work experience during your college years.
This just about wraps up the Narrowing Your Search mini-series. I hope I’ve given you some things to ponder and a bit of guidance as to how to begin exploring the college process. This is by no means a thorough list, and I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what matters to you in the college environment. Good luck, and happy researching!