Guide to Finding the Best College for You
Ask the Right Questions Before You Land on Campus
Choosing to go to college is one of the most important, and life-changing decisions you will ever make. It is the first step on the road to independence, adulthood and a career. It is also likely to be the first time you have truly been on your own. While setting off for college may seem a daunting proposition, finding the right university can help make your college stay both exciting and successful.
A large part of college preparation focuses on the admissions process, searching for financial aid and submitting applications and taking entrance exams. But it's equally important to know how to choose the college that suits you best. Does the college offer programs that match your educational and career goals? Does the campus have a reputation that appeals to your personality, and will it be an environment in which you can thrive as a student? You will need to consider these questions and more when choosing the college that offers the perfect fit for you.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself when Searching for a College
- What is the school's reputation? What are they known for? Athletics, Liberal Arts, the Sciences, or partying?
- What are the admission requirements?
- What qualities should prospective students have?
- Which standardized tests does the college require you to take before you make an application? The ACT, the SAT or both?
- What majors are offered? What's the most popular? Does the college have a reputation for graduating top students in a certain discipline?
- What are the application deadlines for admission?
- What is the total cost of attendance? This includes tuition, textbooks, housing and other expenses.
- What financial aid opportunities ore offered by the college itself? Do you qualify for any of their financial aid programs?
- What are the deadlines for financial aid applications?
- What is the average class size, and what is the student to professor ratio?
- How accessible are professors outside of class?
- When must you declare a major?
- What student services are offered (tutoring, career counseling, study workshops)?
- How up-to-date are the libraries, computer labs?
- What type of housing is available? On-campus, off-campus, apartments, dorms, co-op living?
- Is student housing guaranteed for four years?
- Would you have a roommate or live alone?
- What is the cost of renting apartments near the campus?
- What special interest groups, activities, fraternities/sororities are available?
- What's it like on campus on the weekends?
- Are any programs offered to help students adjust to the college life?
- Are intramural, club, and varsity sports offered?
- Are meal plans available?
Choose a College Major
Deciding your major early can help you narrow down your college choices. Knowing what you plan to study can help you determine which schools offer the best programs in your field. Some universities and colleges have strong reputations in particular fields such as engineering, medicine, applied sciences or English. A university with a reputation for graduating the best and brightest theoretical mathematicians may not necessarily be the best fit for a student studying pre-World War 2 American Literature.
Choose your interest, set your goals, and you will be one further step along the route to finding the college that suits you best.
Determine Your Preferences
Once you've settled on a major, and have considered the type of school you are looking for, it's time to look at what kind of campus experience you want to have. Some things to consider when choosing a college:
- Is the school local or out of state?
- Is it a large university or a small college?
- Is the college in a rural or an urban setting?
- Is it an elite school or an affordable alternative?
- Does the college have a reputation for parties or academics?
These are a just a few of the questions to need to be thinking about when selecting potential colleges. Finding the right fit will make your college career go smoothly and successfully.
Make Your College List: Pros and Cons
Once you've figured out what's absolutely essential to you in a college, start compiling a list of possible choices. Organize them by preference, from your first choice to your last choice. Make notes as to the pros and cons of each college on your list, giving special attention to costs, financial aid programs and your ultimate major.
Now you're ready to begin requesting further information from these colleges. In most cases yo will have already visited the authorized web-site of the colleges you have been considering, but now is the time to formally request entrance packets detailing precise entrance requirements, course availability, housing options, etc. With this information you can begin to narrow your choices even further. If something a bout a certain college is unappealing to you, cross it off your list. The key is to get your list of possible colleges reduced to a manageable number.
Campus Visits Make a Difference
Ultimately, you should physically visit the campus of the colleges you are interested in attending. No amount of brochures or websites can truly give you the full picture of what a college is actually like. A college brochure is helpful, but it is a marketing device whose sole purpose is to advertise the college. Like any advertising campaign it is amoral, and may not be giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice. Remember, you will be spending 2 to 4 years attending college, living,working and studying on it's campus. Be sure you find the one that you are happy and comfortable with.
College advisers generally recommend that students schedule a campus visit for any of the colleges they are considering. While there make it a point to check out:
- Dining halls
- Athletic facilities
- Dorm rooms
- Student union facilities
- Notice bulletin boards that may have fliers that indicate social, political, and cultural events on and around campus.
You will likely tour the campus with a small group of other students interested in attending the college. This is the time to ask questions and really get a good look around, checking out the major campus sights and meeting with some of the current students. If you can try to sit in on a class, and if possible stay overnight in one of the dorms. That way you would get a good sense of the campus and of what your home would be like for the next four years.
Give yourself some time following these campus visits to consider your choices. Remove schools from your list when feel they are not a good fit for you or your college goals. Make every effort to pare your list down to 5 schools or fewer. Too many and you'll pay dearly in application fees and too few may not leave you with enough options for finding the college that suits you best.
The right college, matched with the right student, will result in the best possible college experience. Take the time to do the research, ask the necessary questions, and make your choice with precision and with an eye towards getting the best out of your college career.