How to Pick the Best College to Attend
Deciding on the right college to attend is an intimidating task. You have thousands of options to choose from, from public and private universities to community colleges, and that’s without factoring in international universities. It’s functionally impossible for you to research all of the statistics related to every single college and university in existence. So how do you choose the best college to attend? Fortunately, there is a way to simplify the process so that you can find an institution that you will excel at without losing your sanity. Below are some tips to help you find a college that is right for you.
Think about Your End Goal
The first thing you need to think about when considering colleges and universities is what your end goal is. That means you need at least a general idea of what you want to study and what type of career you would like to have—some careers only require 2-year degrees while others will require at least 4 years of undergraduate study.
Once you have a general idea of what you want to major in, you can research universities based on departments. This can help you narrow your search because different universities specialize in different fields—one might have a superior science faculty, while another might have a better-funded modern languages department.
Consider Your Financial Needs
Another thing you need to consider is how you will be paying for your education. Are you completely responsible for your tuition or will your parents be helping you out or supporting you? Needing financial assistance doesn’t negate you from being able to attend a top private university, however. In fact, universities and other private institutions frequently award ample scholarships and financial aid awards.
You can research what percentage of students receive financial aid, which can give you an idea of your own likelihood of receiving financial assistance of some sort. If taking out student loans are absolutely not an option for you, spending your first two years at a quality 2-year college can drastically reduce the financial burden of higher education.
As you research universities, it is frequently helpful to sort each institution you are interested in into one of three categories: safety schools, match schools, and reach schools. The safety schools are the universities you are confident you can get into because you well exceed their qualifications for admission, though it may not be your ideal school. The match schools are the ones where you fit their criteria for admission and stand a good chance of being admitted. These are also universities where you look forward to being admitted. Reach schools are the long-shots—you don’t quite meet their admission guidelines, but it’s still theoretically probable for you to get admitted.
Once you have sorted each potential university into the three different categories, you can apply to two or three from each category.
Ask about Campus Organizations and Services
When choosing a university, it is important to also inquire into what social or professional organizations and services are available. These organizations can help you make friends with similar interests or give you networking opportunities, so you could stand to benefit from universities with many student organizations.
You should also look into what the university itself offers its students. Is there an on-campus health center? Do they provide counseling and academic advisement? Do they host on-campus job fairs so that you can meet potential employers and polish your resume? These factors can affect the quality of your life both during and after your college years.
Keep in Mind Where You Want to Live
Another factor that will affect which college you end up choosing is if you have strong feelings about your living situation. If you prefer to live with your parents, you are naturally limited to institutions close to home. If you prefer to live off campus, you will prefer a university that doesn’t require for freshman to live on campus.
Should you decide that you prefer to move to a different part of the country (or a different country entirely), do some research about the area to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
Visit the Campus
Once you have narrowed down your list to a manageable number, you should consider a campus visit. Sometimes you can be excited about how a college looks on paper only to realize upon arriving that it’s not the right fit for you and vice versa. You can really only tell when you see it for yourself.
A campus visit gives you the opportunity to check out the facilities, meet current students and faculty, see the dorms in person, and to gauge the atmosphere. If the dorms are too cramped and unhygienic, for example, you might change your mind about living on campus. Or, if the campus is too lively and you think it might interfere with your studies, you may realize that the school will not be a good fit for you. Once you find that you like what you see, you will be more informed about what your living situation will be like and start to genuinely plan for and look forward to the next few years.
Talk About It
Talking everything out with a parent, trusted mentor, or school counselor throughout the process can be extremely beneficial. They can offer feedback and suggestions on things to consider, that you may not have yet thought of.
Write out the Pros and Cons
So after you have narrowed your choices down by category, you’ve figured out your financial and living situations, you have visited several universities in person, and talked things out – you have applied, and now find yourself in the enviable position of having been accepted into multiple colleges and universities. How do you decide which one is The One?
One simple strategy is to put together a list of pros and cons related to each institution. By weighing which pros are most important to you and which cons are most non-negotiable, you can narrow down to the one that you feel most strongly suits you best.
In short, choosing the best college to attend isn’t an easy process. It requires a lot of research, self-assessment, and legwork. But it is possible – if you are honest about your needs, wants, and capabilities, and by following these tips you are well on your way to finding the best school for you.