The abundance of colleges and universities in America can lead to high school students feeling dazed in their search to solidify a list of colleges they are going to apply to.
Here’s a list of factors that can help you prioritize what you should consider in your college search.
I’d argue that the most important aspect to look at is how the specific subject area you are interested in studying differs between schools. If you know what you want to study in college, you should find what schools the programs that are best for what you are interested in.
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The best programs often come with the lowest acceptance rates. The greatest student who ever lived still needed a few safety schools, schools from which they could bank on receiving letters of acceptance. Selectivity is a factor of your college list that needs to be balanced. Everyone should have a few safety schools in addition to any selective school to which they are planning on applying. However, remember that you should only apply to schools at which you would be happy, so make sure you would happily go to your safeties; you may end up studying at one of them.
The location of schools may be a factor you care about. You will, ideally, be spending four years at the school of your choice. Some important questions pertain to location include: Do you want to be near or far from your immediate family? Do you want to be near relatives? Do you want to be in a bustling urban city or a tranquil suburban paradise? Are you looking in other countries? Are you fond of the weather? Do you simply like the area a school is located in? Or is location irrelevant to you?
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Does the image of a football stadium filled to the brim with thousands of students cheering for their team appeal to you? If so, perhaps you would like to attend to a large university. Would you prefer a smaller, more intimate student body where everybody knows everybody? Perhaps a smaller college would work best for you. Or, maybe you would like the best of both worlds by attending a medium sized college.
5. The Presence of Faith
Some students may be interested in attending faith-based or religiously affiliated colleges. If so, research should be done to see which schools are faith-based, which religion or denomination they are affiliated with, and how connected to the faith the school is in practice. Depending on their interests, an individual student will have a different approach to this than other students will.
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Obviously, cost is a big factor. The current trend is that colleges and universities keep becoming less and less affordable. That’s why I recommend having at least one “financial safety,” or one school--most likely, a state school--that you would be happy going to and is more affordable than the typical private or costly-public institution, just in case push comes to shove and you can’t afford any other school you get into, and the loans it would require to go to those less affordable schools would be too costly to agree to take out.
Is the guarantee of housing for all four years important to you? Do you prefer coed or single sex housing? Are you looking for a healthy fraternity or sorority housing environment? Do you require any special accommodations? What is the radius around the school in which you can be a commuter student? These are all questions you’ll have to find the answers for at each institution you are considering.
Each college or university has different policies when it comes to housing and considering you may be living in college-run housing for four years, you’ll want to make sure you know the policy each school has before applying to it.
My advice is to simply find the housing departmental site for each college and university you are considering; most of the time, they do a great job at making the answers to these questions and more easily accessible and understandable. Don’t feel afraid to write an email to the admissions team asking about housing either! They can answer all your questions or point you in the direction of someone who can.
Any sports fans reading this? Are you interested in playing sports at the college or university you end up attending? If so, you should investigate the quality of sports-life on campus and what sports are offered, both at the professional level or the intramural level, depending on your interest.
What activities are you interested in pursuing? Schools differ in the amount and variety of extracurricular activities offered on campus. Perhaps you are interested in choral groups, dance teams, mock trial, debate teams, ukulele club, poker club, band, or journalism? No matter what activity you’re specifically interested in, make sure that your school offers it!
10. AP/IB Credits
Have you spent a lot of money and effort taking AP/IB courses and exams? Then, I’m sure you’d want to get the most bang for your buck (and effort). That is why you should investigate schools’ policies on how many AP or IB credits they will each accept. Transferring enough in can drastically decrease the number of semesters you spend in college, thus decreasing the amount of money you have to spend.
So, I know those are a lot of things to keep in mind when looking for schools to which to apply. You could probably think of a dozen more, too. Nevertheless, and I am sure you have heard this before, but try to keep calm. It’s a stressful process--one I’m thankfully nearing the end of as a senior--but it is a process, nonetheless. You can’t know right now for certain where you’ll end up or what schools will be the best for you. There is no single perfect school for anybody. Instead, there are many colleges that each of us are great fits for. The best part is, you only have to get into one of those schools--although getting into multiple sure is nice, it’s not necessary. We’re all going through the process together.