Have you ever gone to an ice cream shop and been overwhelmed by the number of options in front of you? Without the right tools, choosing your college can feel like buying a $50,000 bowl of ice cream. There are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the United States, all offering the ‘best’ education and an unforgettable experience, so how are you, a busy high school student, ever supposed to make an informed decision? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, but we’ve come up with the top ten things to consider during your college search to make the process just a bit easier.
One aspect of a college that frequently gets overlooked is the surrounding community. Most campuses can only offer so much in the way of culture and entertainment, so it is important to have alternatives close by. When you go on college visit, plan a few hours to have lunch downtown, or stop in for a cup of coffee and check out your options for those days when the thought of another meal in the dining hall is too much to handle.
Every person has a different opinion on the perfect size for a college’s student body, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both large and small colleges. Use your high school experience as a guide, and be sure to visit a variety of campuses to get a feel for your preference. For some, there are few things better than a rowdy student section at Saturday afternoon football games, but for others, a long walk to class at 8:00 AM may be too high a price to pay for a large student body.
Outside of academics, there is a ton going on at colleges across the country. Popular events like homecoming, Greek week, and campus concerts are common at most colleges, but the unique trips and special campus events can really turn an institution into a place to call home. Have a conversation with your tour guide, admissions counselor, or a random student on the quad about some events they’ve attended, and you’ll likely end up with a solid list of things that set their college above the rest.
We’ve all heard of the Freshman 15, right? While there is little data to back up this theory, having a number of opportunities to stay fit is a good thing to consider when choosing your college. Check out the fitness center, ask about intramural sports, and even go to an athletic event on campus - while varsity sports aren’t for everyone, they sure are fun to watch and a good excuse to spend some hours outside the library. In addition, many colleges offer courses in health and wellness for credit!
Colleges are among America’s oldest institutions, and with time comes a long list of interesting traditions. From Chico State’s Labor Day Float down the Sacramento River to North Carolina State’s Krispy Kreme Challenge, special traditions can be great reflections of campus life and student spirit. Find out if your university has any time-honored events to look forward to (or try to avoid, depending on the tradition).
Unless you want to be cooped up in your room anytime you’re out of class (and some people do), you should take the time to find out about the opportunities to get involved on your campus. In addition to academic clubs and honor societies, the majority of colleges have a healthy list of clubs and organizations, all hungry for new members. These groups can be great ways to experience the community through service, learn new skills, or simply make a few new friends during your freshman year. As an added bonus, campus leadership looks great on a résumé.
#4: Career Services
To see pure terror in the eyes of a college senior, just ask them about their post-graduation plans. While some will cringe at the mere mention of ‘the g-word,’ you should instead turn to the aid provided by your campus’ career services department. A good career services department can help you touch up a résumé, train you to nail an interview, and help you find a good summer internship or even a first job, so make sure to find out about this office before applying to any college.
Outside of career planning, there are many resources that colleges provide to students. Your resident advisor can help you make a smooth transition to living away from home for the first time. Many classes have tutors who will host review sessions or help with homework assignments. At some schools, even your professors may take the time to meet with you outside of the classroom to discuss materials further. Keep an eye out for these resources when visiting a college, because a good support system can be the difference between a successful college career and a less-than-satisfying GPA.
#2: Residential Life
For most students, college is the first long-awaited opportunity to live with true independence. The initial excitement of being able to toss dirty clothes wherever you please will wear off, though, and you will want to find yourself in a comfortable living environment. Make sure that you get to see the freshman residence buildings during your college visits, and ask about which amenities are provided, and which you will need to purchase. As a rule of thumb: if your campus tour doesn’t include a residence hall, there’s a good chance that the college has something to hide.
Duh. At the end of the day, the purpose of college is to walk out the door prepared to be a well-educated, productive member of society. Finding the college that offers the right academic program for you is no easy task. As you consider, keep your personal strengths in mind. A liberal arts education is wonderful for some, but others find it tedious rather than beneficial. Some students flourish in a classroom setting, but others need hands-on experience to supplement daily lectures. Whatever your style, make sure to choose a college that offers you the best opportunity to succeed.
There are so many tangible and intangible factors to consider during your college searchthat a list of ten barely does the process justice. Keeping these factors in mind will give you a solid start, but don’t hesitate to add your own to the list!