Selecting a college or university isn’t as simple as picking out a new phone or deciding what you want for dinner. Choosing which colleges to apply to can seem pretty stressful.
With so many different options for colleges across the nation offering four-year degrees, it’s hard to know where to start, or even what you should be looking for.
There are many ways to choose a college. You could choose one based on where you want to live, where your parents went to school, or the overall cost. When selecting a school, it’s important to consider several factors to find the college experience that best suits you and your unique needs.
Here are 8 key factors to keep in mind when choosing which college where to apply.
1) Know Your Long-Term Goals
It's frequently assumed once you graduate high school you'll go to college. But you shouldn't go just because it's expected. You should decide to go because you genuinely want to continue your studies and because it's important and needed for your desired career. It's important to know what exactly you want to get out of your education before you apply to college or university. If you're working toward a degree with no particular end goal in sight, ask yourself if it's wise to invest so much time, money, and resources if there's no measurable benefit at the end of the journey.
Are you studying with a particular job in mind? What career will your education qualify you for?
There is often more than one means to an end - some careers might be attainable with a two-year diploma as opposed to a four-year degree.
2) Consider Your Major
Now that you’ve thought about your long-term goals, finding a school that offers the undergraduate programs you’re interested in is the next stop.
Not every school offers every major, so before you start applying, think about what you want to study. Then you can decide which schools match your interests and avoid applying to ones that don't have the degree program you want.
Every university's requirements are different, so investigating the requirements before applying will help you to determine if you've got a good chance at being accepted. This will also help you to avoid spending money unnecessarily on application fees.
It's also important to know the deadlines. Most universities have strict deadlines when it comes to submitting applications. Some of these deadlines might be earlier for some more competitive programs, or you may qualify for early college admission decisions in some circumstances.
3) Examine the Extracurriculars
Remember that if a club or activity that you love is going to make the transition to college easier you should absolutely be including these in your college search criteria. If you aren’t into sports but love to stay active, check and see what the school’s gyms and recreational areas are like, as they can provide a more solo option for keeping fit.
For people who want to participate in archery or sailing, whether or not the university has those offerings may make or break the school for you. Whether it be the school newspaper, the marching band, the mock trial team, or the robotics club, it is definitely worthwhile to consider what you will want to participate in during your college time, and whether or not the universities you are considering can provide those opportunities. Also, important to consider is how competitive these activities are at colleges and whether you’ll feasibly be able to participate. Most schools will have listings of their college student clubs and organizations online, so if you think you're interested in a college, you should check out the offerings.
4) Look at Different Living Options
It's a lot cheaper to live at home while going to school, but that's not an option for everyone. If you'll have to leave home to go to school, it's a good idea to start thinking about where you're going to live. Will you stay in a student residence or campus housing? How much will it cost?
These are all questions to ask yourself when looking at the accommodations that a college experience must offer. Exploring how you will be living before arriving at the campus for your first semester will better prepare you for the four years ahead.
If you'd rather live off-campus, you should investigate what renting an apartment will cost you per month, and consider whether you're going to live with a roommate. Familiarize yourself with the communities you're considering living in. This is the neighborhood safe, and where are the banks or grocery stores? Is public transit a viable option, can you walk to school, or will you need a car? These are all important decisions that will drastically impact your expenses.
5) Inspect The Location
Whether it’s about apartment hunting or choosing a college, it’s all about location. Not all your career preparation will happen inside of the classroom, so make sure your school is located where you'll have opportunities outside of the classroom.
For instance, if you're a theater major, it's best to be in a city with an extensive performing arts community so you can get internships and learn from industry professionals. Do you want to be close or far away from home? Do you want to go to school in a big city or in a rural area? Do you want to live in the mountains, by the beach, or neither? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. To start, try looking at a map and narrow down which states or regions you might be interested in.
If your concern is a job upon graduation, make sure you are at a school located near potential employers. For example, if you want a career in investing, you’ll likely be better off at a school in New York City rather than a school in Kansas. If you plan to stick close to the school in the summer months, determine if internship opportunities exist in the area.
6) Think about the Size
Almost as important as your location is choosing the size of your potential school. A large school means many people to socialize and interact with, but you might have to compromise your class size.
If you want to have a closer relationship with your professors, you should go to a school with a high student-faculty ratio. Think about if you want to be part of a large, medium, or small student body. Do you want to walk through the halls and always see familiar faces or wander out daily into a big crowd? When you choose your college, you’re also choosing a community to move into.
While some students prefer large discussion halls, others benefit from smaller class sizes, and more one-on-one time with professors. Small campus size allows for more personal interaction in the dining halls, classrooms and in various clubs and programs. It’s about figuring out what type of community works for you.
7) Compare Cost
Most universities will provide a breakdown of fees in their application documents or on their websites. Some of these fees may vary by program or department. Do your best to estimate what your annual tuition will cost. Don't forget that you'll also be responsible to pay other costs like an application fee, administrative costs, and students' union fees.
You'll also be responsible for purchasing your own books and supplies. The thought of paying for college tuition has the potential to send both parents and students into a frenzy. According to U.S. News & World Report, an average of 67 percent of students who graduated in 2016 had to borrow money to pay for tuition, bringing the average student debt for those who took out loans to $28,773.
Most college websites include the Net Price Calculator. Following the simple instructions can help you determine the cost and aid differences across colleges and universities. Once you have a better idea of how much this is all going to cost you, you're going to need to put together a rock-solid budget - and stick to it! These include rent, groceries, utility bills like your cell phone or Internet, and always remember every month you'll have some unforeseen costs.
8) Consider Financial Aid
Although college may be expensive, high college tuition shouldn’t mean the elimination of your dream school. From scholarships and financial aid packages to private and federal student loans to Income Share Agreements, there are many ways to bring down that initial sticker price and afford your school.
If you qualify for scholarships, this can also be a big help. Don't be afraid to apply for a lot of scholarships - The worst that can happen is you spend a little bit of time on an application, and with any luck, you'll land yourself some extra funds.
Other financial aid to carefully consider is Federal student aid and private student loans, as well as Income Share Agreements. Every student’s situation is different and depending on your major, certain financial aid can be a better fit for you than others. Be certain to do your research, so you’re not overpaying for your education in the long run.
Searching for the perfect college can be tough, but you can simplify the process by focusing on your specific goals for your college career.
When it comes to college and university, homework isn't only limited to the classroom. You'll need to put in a fair amount of research before you even go to your first class. Be prepared and know what you're getting yourself into financially before you apply. It will take some time and effort on your part, but in the end, you’ll know that you picked the best college for you.
The more prepared you are in advance, the better off you'll be throughout your schooling and beyond. Interested in more tips and advice on applying to college and financial aid for paying your way through college? Check out the Meratas blog!