With four-year colleges, community colleges, online schools, vocational and technical trade schools, there are thousands of possibilities to consider when thinking about your education after high school. Choosing the perfect school out of this group can seem daunting, even downright overwhelming.
To get you started, we’ve broken down the most important factors to consider when selecting a school:
First and foremost, college is a means of continuing your education so that you can gain a more specialized and in-depth knowledge in a certain field. Major and minor programs, performance ranking among similar schools, academic rigor, and study abroad opportunities are all valuable factors to consider when evaluating prospective schools. By the way, it’s perfectly normal and okay not to know what you want to major in. For many, college actually serves as a method of exposure, helping students discover their passion and career path. But thinking generally about your interests, goals, likes and dislikes is a good starting point for this discovery process. For instance, if you have an interest in art, languages, reading, or writing, a liberal arts school could be the one for you.
Do you want to go to school close to your hometown and be able to visit home on the weekends? Or do you want to take this opportunity to experience an entirely new part of the country? There is no right or wrong answer, just the right answer for you. Think about what type of campus appeals to you. For instance, even if you’ve decided you want to go to an in-state school to save money, do you want to attend a school in a rural location where everyone stays on campus on the weekends and the community is small and tight-knit? Or would you rather go to school in a bustling city where you can escape campus to do things in the city, or take advantage of opportunities for part-time jobs and internships? Distance or online learning can also be a great choice for completing a degree while not having to physically attend school. This option is ideal for people who have full-time jobs, families, or want to complete their degree at their own pace.
The size of your school can have a huge impact on your college experience. If you enjoy small, intimate classes and knowing most of your classmates and teachers, then a school with lower enrollment is probably for you. Schools with a larger student population may allow you to meet new people throughout your stay. Bigger schools may also come with perks like larger athletic programs and networking opportunities with students and alumni.
Cost will most likely be the one factor on this list that isn’t a choice or preference. While there are many financial aid options available, knowing what your budget is for school is still extremely important. Work with your parent or guardian and school advisors to determine how much you will need to borrow or earn in scholarships early. Most opportunities have deadlines and some financial programs, such as FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
There are numerous aspects of campus life that will affect your college experience including school spirit, housing options, Greek life, clubs, religion, and meal plans. Some students want to go to school where they can be a part of Greek life, while others may want to find a school that’s big in sports and school spirit. Not all of these factors may be important to you, but by thinking about each one, you may begin to form a picture of your perfect college environment.
When attempting to narrow down your search by academics or any of the other criteria mentioned above, we’ve found that College Board is a great resource. Their comprehensive school search feature allows users to set criteria that fit their needs. By determining the factors most important to you, College Board allows you to narrow the options to a much more manageable list.
After considering all of the factors above and narrowing your list of prospective schools, the next step is to plan a visit! A website and quotes from alumni can only convey so much about a school, so make sure to visit each campus to experience them first-hand. If you can, talk with students and ask them if they would make the same college choice if they had to do it again. Sit in on classes, eat at the dining hall, and try to picture yourself as part of the community. After taking the time to consider your preferences and options, you are sure to pick a school that is a great fit for you.
What are your biggest questions when it comes to choosing the right college? Sound off in the comments and your question may be answered in one of our next posts!