Long gone are the days when many Americans failed to finish high school, let alone receive a college education. Obtaining a college degree has become an expected part of being a young adult. In fact, in 2018, almost 70% of students who graduated from high school in the spring began their college career a few months later.
Regardless of whether you’re preparing for the transition from high school to college or are well past your teenage years but want to continue your education, choosing a college is a big decision.
The ultimate goal of college is, of course, to earn a college degree. But a college education is so much more than that. And finding the right college is the key to both your success and enjoyment of the experience.
Follow this guide to choose a college that will feel as if it was made for you.
Go Into Your Search with the Right Mindset
Before you begin your research or schedule your first visit, take a deep breath, and relax.
Yes, learning how to find the right college, and taking steps to do so is important. However, there isn’t just one perfect college for everyone. There are thousands of colleges across the country, many of which could be the ideal fit for you.
Instead of thinking about your college search in terms of which schools are “best,” look inward. Knowing yourself and what you want out of your college experience is by far the most useful tool in your arsenal.
It can be helpful to listen to the advice of parents, teachers, and others who can speak from experience. But at the end of the day, it’s your college education and the school you attend should be your choice.
Make a List of Priorities
Now that you’re calm, cool, and collected, it’s time to make your list. Not a list of colleges, but a list of your priorities.
Think about your ideal college experience, setting any potential obstacles aside for the time being. What’s the weather like? How far is home? How many other students are there?
You also need to consider activities that you’re interested in outside of classes. Do you enjoy sports? Music? Theater? Are you hoping to join a social organization such as a fraternity or sorority?
The importance of having an honest conversation with yourself about your personality, interests, and preferences cannot be overstated. If you excel with individual attention from teachers, for instance, a large state university might not be for you.
On the other hand, if you prefer to work independently, you might thrive in the classes of hundreds of students commonly found at these schools.
When you have your list, order the items in order of importance. If visiting your parents on weekends is a top priority for you, place it high on the list.
What to Look for in Potential Schools
As we’ve already discussed, your wants and needs are specific to you. However, there are certain categories that should be taken into consideration by all students.
Going through this list will take some time, but it is crucial if you truly want to choose a college that suits you best. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have total control over which college you go to, as the college you choose has to choose you as well.
By learning how to choose a college that fits you, you’re more likely to be accepted by your chosen school, as they’re more likely to see you like their kind of student.
The following criteria should be included in your college search:
- Majors and minors offered
- Cost and available financial aid
- Distance from home
- Size of the campus and student body
- Post-degree support
- Campus community
- Extracurricular activities available
Don’t take this list as gospel. Certain items can be ignored if they don’t apply to you. You can also add to it if you find that criteria high on your list aren’t included.
Majors and Minors Offered
One of the primary deciding factors is going to be whether or not a potential school offers the area of study you’re interested in. Now, many students begin their college careers with “undecided” majors – and that’s okay!
Choosing the direction you want to take is difficult, which is why about 75% of students change their major at least once before they graduate.
If you’re unsure of your major, consider what direction you see yourself going in rather than trying to pin down an exact major. Are you drawn to science? History? The arts?
Those who aren’t quite sure which major they want to pursue should avoid small, specialized schools. The last thing you want to do is make it even more difficult for yourself to change your mind down the road.
Cost and Available Financial Aid
Unfortunately, the cost of college is a major deciding factor for many students. The price of a single semester at college, including tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other expenses can be astronomical.
That said, you shouldn’t write your dream school off just because it comes with a high price tag. Research any financial aid that might be available to you before deciding a school is too expensive.
Leave no stone unturned. Look into financial aid opportunities for academic achievement, special abilities, diversity, and on-campus employment. These packages truly can make all the difference.
Distance from Home
When students are preparing to graduate from high school, they often fall under two extremes: wanting to stay as close to home as they can, or getting as far away as possible. This is where your priority list can come in handy.
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of going to school in a big city, but your family lives in a small town. Well, you have to weigh your desire for a specific location against the distance from home and determine which is more important to you.
Perhaps you want to live at home, but the schools in your area aren’t your cup of tea. Thanks to modern technology, this isn’t a problem at all! Many schools offer excellent online degree programs, and some schools are based entirely on the web.
Look into options such as Full Sail University, where you can earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree from the comfort of your own home.
Extracurricular Activities Available
Sure, a large portion of your time at college will be devoted to class and study, but you can’t spend every moment of every day between the books! Think about which extracurricular activities you’re interested in. Don’t forget to include ones that might not have been available to you to this point.
Depending on the size of the college, you can find just about any activity you could possibly want to participate in. From intramural sports to community service organizations to pre-professional associations, joining a club is a great way to boost your experience and meet like-minded individuals.
Size of the Campus and Student Body
This one isn’t quite as important as things like areas of study and extracurricular activities offered, but the size of the campus and student body at your chosen school can make more of a difference than you might think.
Think about your current school. How many students attend? 100? 1000? The typical college has many thousands of students in attendance, which can be a huge adjustment if you’re used to an intimate school environment.
Some students thrive in this type of environment. They love seeing new faces every day and the possibility of meeting a new friend in a class you’ve attended for months.
For other students, however, this can be extremely overwhelming. These students might enjoy small class sizes and find comfort in knowing most of their schoolmates.
Does the idea of large lecture halls and a level of anonymity excite you? Or do you prefer the thought of knowing your professors and classmates on a first name basis?
Use This Guide to Make Choosing a College a Breeze
Choosing a college can feel like a monumental decision – and in many ways, it is. However, try your best to keep a cool head through the decision making process.
Allowing yourself to feel panicked or overwhelmed will not only take the joy out of the experience but can lead to you making the wrong choice out of a desire to get it over with. Start the next chapter of your life on the right foot by finding the right college for you.
For more tips on everything from finding success in college to advancing in your career once you’ve graduated, take a look at our blog!