Choosing a college can be an extremely challenging process, especially since students are often pressured to apply to a lot of colleges. Through an online survey we asked High Schoolers how many colleges they were applying to, and almost half answered that they were applying to more than eight.
It's also easy to get caught up in College's national rankings and other people's opinions, but it's so important to remember that just because a college is good and/or good for other people, that doesn't mean it's good for you. Keep in mind that you'll most likely be spending around four years wherever you end up, so instead of focusing on how great a College is, focus on how great it would be for you (and your goals, interests, personality, etc.), because ultimately, the only person who can knows what college is best for you is you.
If you are struggling to narrow down your college choices, check out the list below of important things to consider when choosing a college that helped me (a current college student) a lot when I was applying/deciding.
This may seem like a no-brainer-- since colleges are meant for education after all-- but academic programs can vary more than you think between different colleges, so understanding your choices' academics and how they differ can be more helpful than you'd think.
Different colleges offer way more degrees than others, so if you know what you want to study and/or pursue as a career, simply check which of your choices offer the most relevant majors or minors. If you have no idea what you plan to study in college, that's totally normal and fine! But unfortunately, some colleges are more strict than others, where you are more pressured to quickly choose a major and stick with it, and it's harder and more damaging to switch to a different one throughout the years. So, if you can't see yourself committing to a major immediately or want to go into college as "undecided", consider choosing a college that is more flexible and can give you the breathing room you need.
Choosing a college just because it's more prestigious may be very tempting, but putting yourself up for more than you can handle can be disastrous as it can make your college experience consist of extreme stress and failure, and going to a ranked college doesn't get you anywhere if you perform terribly. If you consider yourself someone who has always excelled academically, and in High School you mostly took AP/IB courses while still leading a healthy and balanced life, then choosing a prestigious college could be the next logical step. Otherwise, be real with yourself and your academic qualities, and consider choosing a college that isn't too easy or too difficult.
A general rule of thumb is that typically public colleges have larger classroom sizes while private has smaller ones. Some people find closer relationships with professors and more classroom participation more valuable and beneficial than others, and these characteristics are more common in smaller classroom settings. So if this matters to you, check what size your choices' classes are and how involved professors are with their students.
2. Financial Aid
Tuition and financial aid varies immensely between private and public colleges, but it goes without saying that colleges in the US are expensive. Private colleges tend to cost more, but generally offer higher scholarships/financial aid. Public out-of-state colleges cost more than in-state. Fortunately, a lot of aid can come from grants and loans offered, but be careful to accept to heavy of a loan that will be difficult to pay back. So before if you are considering applying for grants and loans, be extremely aware of what you can realistically pay and make sure the college and degree you consider pursuing is worth investing in.
This section refers to everything surrounding the social scene, culture, and opportunities of the college campus. Given that the college you choose will be your home for normally the next four years, its important that it feels like a home to you.
A college's size has a big impact on the college's community. Smaller colleges may have a more high-school feel, with typically smaller classes and a stronger interconnectedness between students. Bigger colleges feel more like their own small cities, where the culture is more diverse and it's harder to run into people you know. Knowing which of these two you prefer can help narrow down your choices a lot.
Partying occurs basically at every college. How big it is depends on the college. Some see partying as a central focus of college, while others don't care for it or find it distracting/negative. Learn how the party scene is at your different college choices, and compare that information with your ideal college experience.
Learn how housing works in your college choices. Some colleges are known for having very social dorms while others have quieter ones and the more social living spaces are fraternity/sorority houses. Also, learn how popular Greek Life is, but be sure to not get caught up in stereotypes. Especially nowadays, there's all kinds of fraternities and sororities, so generalizing won't get you anywhere. Similar to partying, some see joining Greek life as a must while others don't care for it. If Greek Life seems appealing to you, make sure the colleges you are considering have a big Greek Life presence (these are typically public schools). If the opposite is true, consider a college where Greek life isn't the central social scene.
Sports play a significant role in many colleges' social cultures, especially if a college is a NCAA division 1 school. Many people choose a college due to their love for their football or basketball team, while others couldn't care less how relevant their college option's sports teams are. Deciding where you lie in this range can help you rule out certain colleges.
Being part of a club can be a great way to make your college experience valuable and enjoyable, especially if it's one you are passionate about. Check which of your colleges offer clubs that you are interested in joining.
Study Abroad Programs
For some colleges, studying abroad is a very popular thing to do. If studying abroad at some point during your four years in college is non-negotiable for you, make sure to look into a college that offers solid programs and places you want to go to.
This section refers to everything surrounding the social scene, culture, and opportunities outside of the college campus. Although you will probably spend most of your time on-campus, you'll still be spending a lot of time in the area surrounding campus, whether you are participating in fun activities the city offers, or looking for job/internship opportunities.
Distance from home
Post-High School graduation, many students want to go to college as far as possible, while others that would miss home more would rather stay in the same general local area. Ask yourself if you are the kind of person who wants to experience a completely new area and life, or the kind of person who would get homesick doing this.
If cost is more of a concern to you, make sure you research how expensive the areas surrounding your college choices are. Going to college at an expensive area can take a toll on your renting and grocery shopping expenses.
Different areas have different career opportunities. Make sure the degree you are pursuing can set you up for success in the area you're in. For example, if you are pursuing a STEM-related degree, consider a college in a more technological area, such as California's Bay Area or Seattle.
Is campus always sunny and near a beach? In the middle of downtown? In a mountainous area? Where campus is located affects what things there are to do. Ask yourself what you would want your ideal weekend off-campus to look like. Would you want to party in the city at night and/or wake up early and go on beautiful nearby hikes? Whatever it is, consider choosing a college that offers what is most fun for you. Doing so makes the area feel more like home.