It’s the home stretch right now: you’ve heard back from colleges, and it’s time to decide where you’ll be this fall. For many high school seniors, this part of the college application process is actually the most stressful. In trying to envision yourself at one particular college or another, especially if you’ve narrowed it down to two or three, things can get nerve-wracking. Fortunately, we have some tips on how to handle these stressful feelings and ultimately choose the right college for you.
1) Have you decided on a major? If so, is there a particular college that’s best for your academic trajectory?
If you already know what you want to major in, this question should feel easier to answer. Consider colleges that have cultivated fantastic learning environments for your particular major — but not in terms of rankings.Consider specific programs, what professors are doing research in your field, what opportunities exist for internships and professional growth , and more. For example, if you want to major in International Relations, then consider schools that have great study abroad and foreign language programs. If you haven’t decided on a major, try to leave yourself room to explore your interests. Some colleges make it easy to switch majors and programs, while others are a little more restrictive. Make sure to do your research.
2) What locations and physical environments are best for you?
This question deserves special consideration. If you don’t like how your campus feels on a physical level, or if you’re not a huge fan of your surroundings, you may feel less happy and more homesick as a result. You should have a general idea of where you want to live for the next four years. Do you want to live close or far away from home? Do you want to go to school in a big city or in a rural area? Do you want to live in the mountains, by the beach, or neither? Ask yourself these types of questions and think through your answers seriously. If you can, visit campuses.
3) Do you want to attend a public or private university?
A lot of the differences between public and private schools depend on location. The state funds public schools, so they’re limited as to how much financial aid they can give you. However, they are often cheaper in the first place. On the other hand, private schools can sometimes give more aid because of their private funding. Size is also an important factor to consider: private schools are often smaller than public schools. You can also go to a religiously affiliated school, which will definitely be private. Look at your schools and compare their financial aid packages, sizes, majors, etc.
4) What size school do you want to attend?
Speaking of the difference between private and public universities, it’s also important to consider how the size of your school could affect your college experience. A large school means that your social scene could be a lot broader, but classes will be larger as well. If you want to have closer relationships with your professors, then consider a school with a high student-faculty ratio. Do you want to be part of a large, medium, or small student body? Do you want to walk into the quad and always see familiar faces, or see different people every day on your walk to class? When you choose a college, you’re also choosing a community. Choose carefully!
5) Where do you want to live housing-wise?
Housing means everything from how many people live on campus to dorm options. Most schools offer coed housing, while some offer same-sex housing. Additionally, some colleges have themed housing, where each dorm has a different theme (like science, music, or sports) to bring together people who share interests. Several colleges also have wellness dorms where you can avoid drugs and alcohol. Finally, do you want attend a school where most students live on campus? Some colleges require all freshmen or even all undergraduates to live on campus, but there are also many commuter schools. If you’re going to live on campus, then think about going somewhere that has lots of students who also live on campus. All of these things are important to consider when choosing a college — you’re going to be there for the next four years, so live somewhere where you feel comfortable.
6) Are sports and clubs important to you? Which ones?
Even if you only play for fun, look into the sports programs at the colleges you’re considering. Even if you play a sport in high school and don’t plan on playing seriously in college, you may still have fun playing on your school’s club or intramural team. And if you don’t play sports, make a list of activities that are important to you. Do you want your college to have a dance program? A student newspaper or creative writing clubs? What about campus ministries or debate team or Model UN? Orchestra, fraternities/sororities, choral groups, campus radio, and more abound at almost every college. This aspect of campus life shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but it’s still good to consider.
If you don’t have detailed answers to these questions right away, don’t worry! It takes time to form them. But even if you don’t care where your school is or how big it is, you still have to decide that it doesn’t matter, which means that you still have to envision yourself in various situations. If you’re not sure, keep an open mind. Plenty of students have found their dream schools by considering these factors, and we hope that you do too!