When you first step foot onto a college campus, it is a time of transition from high school to college. For most, it is also a step from structure to relative freedom. What should you look for when choosing a college? Looking back at my own questions and then my decisions, there are many things to consider when picking a college!
“What kind of college do you want to go to?”
First things first: Do you have any idea what kind of college you want to go to? Consider thinking about this first and foremost, even before you go and visit any of them. Do you want to go to a college with a large student body and be one of many faces in your classes, or a small one where you can feel like you really connect with your professors and friends? Would you want to stick close to home or go far away to college? Is living at
home an option for you, if you’re considering community college? What kind of activities do you want to be involved in, and will they be offered in any form (club or sport?)
Most of these questions factored into my own consideration for college. Yes, I even asked myself about community college and how far away I wanted to go from home!
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The next step is to narrow it down to a handful of colleges using your answers to some important questions. Don’t forget to do some research on the colleges’ websites before sending in applications (since application fees can add up). If you’re feeling really lost after looking at a few places, ask a family member or your friends to help you look for potential colleges. In addition, dig into the pile of brochures you’ve probably gotten in the mail. I ended up applying to many of the same colleges my best friends and my sister applied to; even though I ended up going to a different college than my best friend, I found the right fit for me through a campus tour and financial aid package (more on that next).
“What about Financial Aid?”
Second: Take a look at the financial aid packages your potential colleges will send you after submitting your application. This was a big factor in choosing a college for me. I knew going into it that some colleges would offer me more than others based on my grades, and what I could pay according to the FAFSA (Federal Application for Free Student Aid). The financial aid package will take into account your FAFSA. Based off of this report and your high school transcript, they will offer you a certain amount in renewable and non-renewable scholarships.
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If you’re going to get scholarships based on your grades, see if you’re up to the task - college is a bit different than high school, and a lot more effort goes into obtaining good grades. My scholarships decrease by a percentage depending on how low my GPA gets. If that’s the case for your college as well, consider how that can affect your financial aid package if you’re only looking to spend a certain amount on college.
Additionally, think about who is going to be paying for your education when looking at financial aid packages and tuition. One of my best friends goes to college in California, and her parents have graciously paid for (and will continue to pay) all of her educational costs. She works to pay for groceries and gas, but other than that, she does not really have to worry about the cost of her education.
I, on the other hand, have a different agreement with my parents. If I need to, I will take out loans to finish college, but other than that, I will start to pay them back after I get out of college and find a job. They have borne the brunt of my college education so far, and I could not be more grateful, but we do have the understanding that I will pay them back, loans or no loans.
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If you have a different situation - for example, you are working to put yourself through college - consider the factors behind who will be paying for your education and how much will have to be paid back. If you already know you’re going to go for a graduate degree in your field, consider different programs; different colleges have different strengths in regards to what master degree programs they excel in.
“Is there a campus/school that you immediately connected with?”
Third: As you are visiting a bunch of campuses, take into account how you feel as you’re walking around each of them. Is there one that stuck out to you that you liked? One where you couldn’t see yourself there at all?
For me, the smaller campuses I toured felt safer, and the tree-lined quad in the middle of my current campus sealed the deal—along with the cost of tuition offset by the amount of scholarships I was getting. But if there is that one college that you felt at home when you toured it - regardless of cost - I would advise you to go for it! The point of tours and walking around campus is to gauge how comfortable you feel. If you feel lost in a sea of people, feel that you can’t find enough of them, or feel downright homesick since it would be too far away—your mind won’t be on learning, which is what you are going to college to do (In addition to hanging out and studying with your friends, am I right?).
If you only take one piece of advice from this article, take this: throughout your college search, figure out what makes you happy; this is the only thing that will matter when looking for a place that you can call home, as you further your education.