Finding the right college can be stressful. There are so many choices, and narrowing them down is not always easy. But with thousands of public and private schools to choose from, there is a match for you. You might even be surprised to find that looking for the perfect match can be a lot of fun.
What are you going to study?
You’ve probably been asked the same question dozens of times by friends of family members. Some students have known almost their entire lives what they want to do, while some adults still have no clue! If you are set on your major, then make sure you only look at schools with a good academic program in that particular area. If you’re still undecided, then search for schools that have a broad range of accredited programs available, and that have a strong liberal arts program.
Now that you have your focus of study narrowed down, you must consider geography. Are you set on staying close to home, or even living at home and commuting to school? Or are you planning on traveling cross country or even overseas? Whichever your choice, narrow down your options to just a few places. This will make researching schools more manageable.
Public or Private?
Next, you should decide whether you should attend a public or private college. While public colleges are usually more affordable and less competitive, private colleges may offer a more personalized education and smaller class sizes. However, each school is different and you may want to do some research before making a decision.
Begin researching colleges
When you have made your decision about course of study, geography, and whether you’d like to attend a public or private college, research schools with these qualities. Ask your guidance councilor for brochures and books, look online, and call schools to request more information. You should create a list of about 10 colleges you would like to research in depth, and ultimately you will be able to narrow the list down to 5 or 6 schools you will be able to visit. Be sure to have at least one “safety school,” or school you are almost positive you will be accepted to, and one “reach school,” a college you will have to really impress to get in to. Your top-choice school will probably fall somewhere in between these two categories.
Visiting schools is your next and final step before evaluating options and choosing 2-4 colleges you’d like to apply to. Make sure you formulate a list of questions you would like to ask on your tour, and make sure you speak to students you see on campus about their personal experiences at that college. Other important factors to consider include:
Atmosphere – Students and teacher’s attitudes are very telling about how happy they are in their environment. Also, how clean is the campus? Is it busy and bustling, or empty and subdued? Are you in a rural or urban setting? Atmosphere is a key factor in determining whether a school is the right fit for you, and whether you’ll be happy spending your time on campus.
Housing – This is an aspect of college life that usually takes some getting used to, as dorm rooms are usually small and shared with at least one other person. However, some upper-classmen housing can be very nice, and some schools do not require their students to live in dorms. While living on-campus is recommended for at least your first 2 years of college, make sure that you’ll be comfortable living and sharing the space with others.
Student Activities – Do you like to get involved in school clubs and activities, or do you prefer to do things on your own? Do you like to go out at night, or would you rather stay home and watch a movie? No matter what your preferences, it is important that there is the right balance of student activities and nightlife for you to thrive at school.
Financial Aid – Let’s face it– choosing which schools to apply to may come down to how much it’s going to cost you. So be sure to speak to a financial aid officer on your campus tour, and get some advice from your high school guidance councilor about financing for college.