College is a huge milestone in a young person’s life. It is your first time away from home. You are in a whole new environment with brand new people. It is the time to explore and learn about yourself. It is also the time to discover your path in life and what you want to do as a career. Because of all of this, choosing a college should not be taken lightly. It deserves careful consideration, as it will set the course for most of your life. This is not to say there is anything wrong with not going to college. If you want to go to your local community college, join the military, or take a gap year or two, that is totally valid. However, if a traditional college is in your near future, then listen up. You shouldn’t just close your eyes and point to a college at random. You should think about what fits you. Also make sure you apply to a good amount of colleges, at least five or so, so that you are well prepared for anything that can happen. You will learn a lot in college, but you will also have fun. Follow these tips so that there is a good chance that you will love the next four years of your life.
1. Location, Location, Location
If you are going to live somewhere for four years, you should make sure that you like it. Maybe you are comfortable with your hometown and could not imagine living anywhere else. It is also possible that you want to get as far away from home as possible. Either way, these will be factors in your college decision. Some people thrive being close to a bustling metropolitan environment, while others are okay with rural areas and not many nonstudents for miles. Look carefully at when your potential colleges are situated so you can imagine what life is like. Think about how often you would want to go out on the town. Do you want to already know the area or discover something new? When people buy a house, location is the first thing they consider because it is important for their home. College will be your home, so location should definitely be considered.
2. Campus or City?
Your environment can be the key to your comfort. How the school is set up can dictate what your college experience will be like. On one side of the coin, there is a campus. Most colleges have this atmosphere, especially older ones. This is where everything is closed off and the only people you see will be other students. You may be near a city, but it is as if your campus is its own town with its own buildings. Then there are city campuses, like NYU for example. This is not a traditional campus. You will be living in a big city with a couple scattered buildings in a similar area. You will pass people on their way to work qas you walk to class and you will have freedom to go wherever you want. This may not feel like a traditional college experience for some people, but others enjoy the freedom. Make sure you know what you want so you can figure out which colleges have your ideal environment.
3. Think of Your Major
Whatever college you go to, you will be going to pursue your interests for a future career. You will pursue a major to help you get to that career. From biology to theatre, there are so many options for a major. You don’t necessarily have to decide right away, but you may have a general idea of what you want to do. This will be a factor when picking a college. Some colleges are renowned for certain programs, like Johns Hopkins for pre med or Northwestern for journalism. If you have a passion, you should make your school have a good program for your interest. If you have a niche interest, make sure your potential colleges at least have it as an option. It does not even have to be highly regarded, as long as it is clear that they have a well put together program. If you do not know what you want to major in, you should check for that too. Some colleges force you to apply for a major right away, others will give you time, so definitely think about how sure you are.
4. Size Does Matter
A lot of variety can be found when looking for colleges, and a lot of that variety can be found in undergraduate size. You can go to UCLA with around thirty thousand students, or you can go to Sarah Lawrence with around twelve hundred students. Your college can feel like its own county or it can feel like your high school. There are advantages and disadvantages to both situations. A smaller college will give you a tighter community and you may feel a little special. With a bigger college, you will constantly be meeting new people and there will be larger crazier events. If you have a preference for one of these scenarios, then you should consider that when looking at colleges. No one should feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed in their college experience. Think of your dream range, and try to only look at colleges in that range. College will make you a small fish in a big pond, but you can decide on the size of the pond.
5. Do You Want to Party?
College is a time with no parental supervision. That means that there are no curfews and you can go out whenever you feel like it. The question is, how often will you feel like it? Do you want to wake up with a stranger in your bed and a pounding in your head? Or do you want to wake up refreshed after curling up with a good book and getting to bed at a reasonable hour? Colleges will have a reputation either way. There are big state schools, usually in the south, that have a large partying and drinking culture, and there are the small liberal arts colleges where people may party every now and then, but they are mostly chill and studious. A lot of this is based on the fraternity and sorority culture at colleges. It is easy to look up how many fraternities and sororities a school has, as well as the percentage of undergrads that are in them. That should give you an idea of how much the students party and go crazy. While you go to college to study, it is important that you also have fun, so make sure your college knows how to have fun your way.
6. Are You Sporty?
Everyone has an opinion on sports one way or another. If you do not care at all for sports, that in of itself is an opinion. When you are looking for future education, your opinion on sports will matter. If you are planning on using sports to get into college, the next step is a little more clear to you in terms of how sports is a factor. If you do not play sports, it is more about the culture. If you are a huge sports fan who is always on the sidelines cheering, you would probably like the culture of a college like Duke where sports plays a large part in its reputation and lifestyle. If you never watch sports and would prefer to not hear about it, a school like Brandeis where they do not even have a football team and sports is not a large part of their culture would be a better fit. A key way to figure out the culture is to see if the sports teams are Division I. If they are, it is a good chance they care about sports. If they are Division III, ten they are most likely more chill about their athletics. So if you want to constantly be a part of sports life with a pom-pom constantly waved in your face, look at that for colleges, and if not, find the relaxed environment of your dreams.
7. The Religion Factor
There are some colleges that are religiously affiliated, which means that a certain religion is a big part of the college’s morals and organization. There are schools like University of Notre Dame which are affiliated with the Catholic Church and schools like Brigham Young University that are affiliated with the Church of Latter Day Saints. These schools are not a hundred percent undergraduates of their religious affiliation, but it is definitely a large amount. A school may seem interesting to you, and you may think the religious affiliation will not be a big deal. However, if you are not particularly religious or not a part of religious affiliation, you may feel left out at the college. Pick a college that does not have any religion, and look at the religious makeup to see if you will be feeling left out. If you are religious, than you will probably want a school where religion is a big part of your college life, so take a look at those colleges. Whatever your beliefs are, they are important because they are yours. If they are part of your life, they should be a part of your college life, and they can help guide you to a college that aligns with you.
8. Could You Get In?
A college may check all of your boxes, but there is the question if you check all of their boxes. Many schools are harder to get in then others and you would be competing with a lot of students. Schools may receive thousands of applications, but will only accept a couple hundred, the cream of the crop. Try to figure out what level of school should be a target school. Consider SAT scores, grades, extracurriculars, essay writing skills, and anything else that you may put on a college application. You can look up the typical ranges for these colleges online and see if you fit. Even if on paper you are below what they want, that does not mean you should automatically rule it out. That just means you should consider it a reach school. It will be a possibility, but don’t bet on it. Try to figure out what fits you and is also a target school so that you can be in your best match possible. Also have some safeties to be absolutely sure you will get in somewhere. Cover all your bases so that you can get in the best school you can, but without being too risky.
9. What Do Students Have to Say?
So you have found some colleges that look absolutely perfect for you. It fits all of your qualifications and it seems like you will thrive there, and you can not wait to call it home. However, do you know everything about this college? Do you know how good the food is, how the school supports its students, if the professors are good, and what the fun events are? These key details will be found if you talk to students. Sign up for a tour or an interview with a student to get an inside look of the school. They will tell you what makes their school unique and their personal favorite parts. It will become more than just a list of descriptions on a website. It will become a real school with real people.