Choosing a college is an important decision, and far too many students make a decision based on a single factor. They might choose the college that seems the cheapest or the one that’s closest to home without really looking at the college as a whole. These things don’t necessarily mean a good fit. If you want to be happy with your decision, carefully consider your options. Look for a school that’s going to be right for you in all the ways that matter most to you.
Close to Home or Far Away?
For many students, college is the first taste of freedom they get. It’s an opportunity to separate from your parents and deal with adult things like time management and paying bills on your own. This leads some to look for schools that are far away from home. For example, students in New York might try applying to universities in Oregon or New Mexico. If a school far away sounds pretty good to you, think first of the travel costs and whether you’ll feel lonely when you can’t make it home for Thanksgiving. A school within driving distance might be a better compromise.
On the other hand, you might feel better about going to a college that’s closer to home. Living at home while you take classes could be a good way to save some money on your education, particularly if you have a good school nearby. However, you’ll also probably have the option of living on campus even if your parents are just 20 minutes away. This will give you some independence along with the ability to be close to family when needed.
Look at the number of students in each class to decide whether this will give you the experience you want. Large universities often have very large class sizes, particularly in the introductory classes. This might make it difficult to develop a close relationship with your professors and get the personalized experience you prefer. Of course, some people love being part of the crowd and appreciate the opportunity to meet many different types of people. As you go deeper into your college major, the class sizes are bound to get smaller, and you might be willing to wait a few years to develop relationships with your professors.
Look closely at the academic offerings the school provides. If you already know what you want to do after graduation, you’ll want to be sure that the college offers a program that sets you on that path. For instance, a Bachelor’s degree from any college is a good first step on the way to becoming a teacher, but if you want to be a radiology technician or a computer programmer, you’ll need a school that has courses and certifications in these areas. You’ll also want to find a school that offers you a good academic challenge without being too difficult. Get a feel for this by looking at the average test scores for admitted students or by sitting in on a class or two.
College isn’t just about academics. Participating in extracurricular activities is a good way to make friends and gain leadership skills that will help you in the workforce. That’s why it’s important to look into the clubs and activities the school offers. If you join the ski club, you’ll be sure to hit the slopes a few times a year in between classes. If you join a community service organization, you’ll feel joy in giving back to your town. No matter where your interests lie, you want to be sure that the college has an outlet for them. If not, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
Different types of schools attract different types of people. Some schools are known as “party schools” while others have rules against alcohol on campus. Some schools are known to attract students who are interested in activism, and some schools attract serious students who will always be found in the library. You can go by reputation alone, but it’s hard to get a feel for the school without visiting. If a school makes your short list, take some time to go to the campus and pay attention to how the other students are acting.
Christian vs. Secular
If your Christian beliefs are an important part of who you are, it’s smart to focus your college search on private Christian colleges. Almost all colleges will have small pockets of believers, and you’re sure to find Christian groups on campuses throughout America, but when you attend a Christian college, you can feel confident that all students there share your beliefs. You won’t have to worry as much about peer pressure to drink or to have sex before marriage. It could also be a good place to meet a future husband or wife who you know shares your faith.
Consider what type of support you can find from the school after graduation as well. A college that has a good career services department can help with finding jobs for the rest of your life. Many colleges also have alumni groups that get together in areas around the country for networking or friendship. This isn’t always a deciding factor when you look at colleges, but it’s definitely nice to know that the college offers continued support throughout the years.
The Affordability Factor
For most families, affordability is one of the biggest concerns when choosing a college. State schools tend to have significantly lower tuition rates for in-state students, but they don’t always offer the financial aid that students need. Private schools, on the other hand, cost more but can offer eligible students grants and scholarships to make the school more affordable. As you apply to schools, keep costs in mind, but wait until you get an acceptance letter and the financial aid package before making a decision. Sometimes, when you show another school’s aid package to your first choice school, they’ll offer to match that package for you.
Ultimately, you want to choose a school that has the whole package. This means different things to different students, so keep an open mind as you look at all of the schools available to you.