Contrary to popular belief, there is no “perfect school.” There are schools you’d like to go to, schools you’d love to go to, and schools you wouldn't want to attend.
On your college trip, you will get a first-hand look at the schools that represent your options, and you will see the good and bad, since no institution is 100% perfect.
For example, I recently saw Johns Hopkins, which was a beautiful school.
The good elements, I found, were the campus, student body, academic rigor, and research opportunities.
The bad elements were that the university was not need-blind and had a 60-75% graduate school acceptance rate (high according to my tour guide, but low compared to some of the other schools I’d seen).
Every school has such elements, bad and good areas that will help you decide where you will attend classes and debate English prose.
Location, Location, Location
One such factor is location. Would you rather be in a happening city, like Philadelphia, Houston, or New York? Would you enjoy the harbor of Baltimore, the shops of Chicago, or the concerts of Boston? If you need stimulation, something to do every night, and a constant stream of new people, an urban school may be your best pick.
On the other hand, you may like the small town feeling of Amherst or the community of a school like Williams. Maybe you’d like a place where everyone knows your name and you can get lost in nature or drive past corn fields. Thus, rural schools may call your name.
Of course, there are suburban schools that strike a nice blend.
Other considerations include size - would you like a college smaller than your high school or larger than your town? Do you want an active Greek life?
Often, students who are sure they will not participate in Greek life find themselves drawn to the friends, events and social life that comes with it.
Also, cost is a major factor, for both the future college student and his or her parents. You should consider your finances, whether you’re willing to take out loans, any scholarships you’ve received. If you go to a school that you may not be able to afford, you may need to work on campus to help afford tuition.
Loans can take years to pay off, and many students aren't willing to take on that burden, especially with graduate school to anticipate.
You should keep all financial options in mind and also think about where you’ll be in five, ten or fifteen years, and whether your college decision should have such a big impact on your future.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
On a separate note, many students decide to take a different path, studying for two years and excelling in an affordable community college and then transferring to a larger school.
This is a great option, but less optimal for your social life, since you would have to find a new group of friends on a new campus.
More specifically, some schools do not offer majors that other schools do. For example, in some schools pre-med is a major, while in schools it is a concentration or track. Schools with pre-med as a track sometimes allow you to major in something else that may interest you. One of my tour guides majored in economics while on the pre-med track.
Research is also a highly valued part of the college experience, and you can get involved in research in every subject from medicine to social studies to romance languages. Research opportunities can be found at almost every school.
However, if you would like to make sure that you are able to pursue the research you want to study, you may wish to attend a small college, where all opportunities go to undergrads, or to a university with lots of scholarships and grants.
See Schools Before Believing
Visiting the school is also a very important aspect of your decision, as this campus will be your home for four years, or more if you decide to attend graduate school at the same university.
For some, creative inspiration and motivation can only come from a school known for their campuses, like William and Mary or Princeton.
The college process requires a plethora of questions: do I want a school with history? Diversity?
In a city or in the country? Big or small, and a college or a university? Through college visits, personal preference and advice, you can narrow down these questions, prioritizing your needs in a college and its campus and finding the best school for you.
After a visit, try scheduling an overnight visit. If you know someone on campus, have them show you around or see if they can let you spend a day or two amongst the students.
A person can be happy at many colleges, and through deliberation and experience, you may just find your nearly-perfect school.
While your final decision can only come from the schools that accept you, the decision can even then be daunting.
While there is no “perfect” school, you can raise your chances of attending a dream school by applying early decision round 1 or 2, or by applying early action.
Your odds rise significantly with these actions, and may allow you to attend a school that appears otherwise unreachable.
What other factors impacted your college decision?