1. Get to know yourself.Think about what you actually want in a school – not what your parents want, not what you’ve wanted since you were little and not what your BFF or SO wants. What do YOU want right NOW? Why do you want it? You should be able to get to the root of your desires and answer these questions if you’re being honest with yourself and are really examining your priorities.
2. Examine your goals.Ask yourself: what are my goals? Size and location are only one aspect of your college search. Do you have a certain major or field of study in mind? Your potential college should offer whatever it is you’re looking to pursue. Some students don’t know exactly what they want to study, but they have a few potential ideas in mind. If this is the case, make sure they offer all of your potential majors.
3. Do I respond well to change?This is a vital question, especially if you’re the type of student who is thinking about a city college when you’ve always lived in a small town or vice versa. Many students dream of attending the type of college opposite from their hometowns, only to discover once they get there that the amount of change is extremely overwhelming. Some students, however, crave that and thrive on a new and different lifestyle. As mentioned before, it all depends on one’s personality, adaptability and reactions. That’s why it’s important to think through your decision and how you may react before you make your choice.
4. What type of environment do I thrive in?If you find that you thrive in courses with more individualized attention, a smaller school with a lower faculty to student ratio may be better for you. If you’re more independent, a larger school or a big city may be just what you need. In addition to size and location, keep different school atmospheres like state, private and liberal arts colleges in mind, too. These types of colleges can make big differences in the school’s environment as well.
5. What type of environment stresses me out most?You know yourself best. If the mere sight of a large crowd gives you panic attacks then you may want to rule out Big Ten schools. Consider what types of environments you find that you avoid at all costs – and then rule out schools that tend to fit that mold. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by not forcing yourself to fit in somewhere that makes you ill at ease. You want to aim for somewhere that makes you feel the most naturally, well, you!
6. Visit different types of schools to experience different atmospheres.This is where you test out your answers to the above questions at actual schools. Take yourself for some test runs and visit all different types of schools to see if you had the reactions you anticipated. Rate your comfort level at each school to see which type of school you felt most content and which made you feel most uncomfortable.
7. Talk to current students – as many as possible.Just as with any scenario in life, one opinion is never enough to go on. Try to speak to as many current students at each school as you possibly can to get the most insight into the school as you can. Ask about the courses, the professors, campus life and extracurricular activities. Note: if you ask students that aren’t giving campus tours, they are more likely to be candid and honest with their answers because they don’t work for the university.
8. Know that college websites, pamphlets, brochures, etc. may manipulate the truth.Just as you know that when you purchase something from a catalog or online, it’s not always as pictured, it’s never a good idea to make a college decision without visiting the school. Would you make an online or catalog purchase for that price without being able to return it? We didn’t think so. This is a much bigger deal – this is part of your life we’re discussing!
9. There is likely more than one college for you, so don’t stress out too much.It’s important to remember that there is more than one college you will love and, no matter where you end up, will have wonderful college experiences. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself because most schools have something for everyone. Consider this: your absolute worst case scenario is that you transfer schools and even that isn’t that big of a deal, either! When you realize the “worst case scenario” isn’t all that bad, it will likely ease a lot of your stresses.
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