Which College Is Right For You?

Graduating high school and continuing on to higher education is an instrumental part in ensuring that you will have a fulfilling and well-paying career later on in your adult life. College degrees give employers more incentive to hire people, and they allow people to hone in on a chosen skill or major. Getting a college degree is a challenge, and no two universities are the same. Not everyone will enjoy going to Yale or Harvard. Some people may find that they fit better in a large public or state college. Each person has individual needs, so it is a good idea to go over a check list of criteria for the schools you are considering. There are several important factors to think about when looking for the right school. There are many different aspects to schooling that should be taken into account before you dedicate yourself to one particular college.

Academics

The first order of business when choosing a college is deciding what major you want to pursue. Some students opt to major in English, business, law, medical, biology, journalism, and a myriad of other topics. Once you’ve determined what your major will be, it’s time to consider what colleges have the best curriculum and the most to offer. Find out if the major of your choosing is supported by a fully accredited school. Not all colleges are accredited in all majors, so this is very important. It is also wise to look into what other students and recent graduates have to say about different programs. You may find that the school you originally had in mind doesn’t have as good a program as a different school does, so be sure to do your homework and research the different credentials for your chosen major.

Social/Academic Support

Simply attending college is often not enough to pass with flying colors. You need support, both academically and socially in order to excel and perform to your highest potential. Look for schools that offer fraternity or sorority opportunities, sports teams, and a good tutoring and mentoring program. Find out if professors are easily accessible if you have individual problems or questions. Look into different clubs and other social functions that the school might host to see if you will feel like a part of the family. This nurturing environment is important to feeling comfortable in your surroundings and in doing well, even when you find yourself experiencing difficulties.

Student Body/Diversity        

You should always visit a college campus before deciding to take the plunge and dedicate yourself to a school. Think about the types of students that are there: is it a diverse group with people of all races and ethnicities? Does the campus have a good “culture” where artistic expression and differences are accepted? The type of people who attend the university you’re interested in can often dictate what kind of experience you will have there, so make sure that it is a place where you feel comfortable. Look for campuses where people of all backgrounds are encouraged to work together, and where cultural events take place such as art exhibits, plays, musicals, and festivals celebrating all walks of life. This is a good indication that the school appreciates and encourages diversity among its students.

Financial Situation/Financial Support

Of course, money and tuition is always a big factor in choosing a school. Find out if the schools you’re interested in offer financial assistance and if they have financial aid counselors who can help you find grants and scholarships. Look at the price of tuition along with room and board, and do a side by side comparison among several schools. Often, if you have a certain financial situation, you can apply for financial aid which usually includes a federal or private loan. Grants are also available, and these do not have to be repaid so it is a good idea to explore your options. Apply for as many scholarships as you can, and apply early. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of text books into your overall costs, and if you are able to live off-campus you might be able to offset some of the room and board costs as well.

Specialty

While looking for the perfect college, think about what the college is known for. Perhaps it is the country’s most prestigious medical school, or the school’s art program is nationally recognized for excellence. Think about what makes the school you’re interested in special, and think about whether or not it meets your individual needs. If you are interested in business, look for schools that focus on this and have a well-known program. Some schools, like MIT, are famous for certain specialties like engineering. Some schools are almost exclusively devoted to one specialty. Johnson and Wales is a good example of a school that focuses on a specialty in cooking and chef studies.

Networking Opportunities

College should be viewed as a place where you can gain knowledge to obtain an educational degree for a subject in which you are truly interested in. Higher education can also be a place where you meet new people and make important connections that can last a lifetime. Look at the schools you are interested in, and see what kind of potential networking opportunities are available. Some schools have job placement programs and great internship programs that can help you “get your foot in the door.” These networking opportunities can encourage your personal growth as well as career growth, and allow you to meet and connect with countless important people. Internships are invaluable ways to learn hands-on, and help you get a great job. Look for universities that have a good, solid internship program that can help broaden your horizons.

Reputation

A schools’ reputation is often worth more than anything else. Schools like Yale and Harvard have long been known as some of the most prestigious schools in the country. No matter where you are located, a college’s reputation is important. Ask other students how they feel about their school, and find out what professionals are saying about the schools’ graduates. A college’s reputation can mean more than just an image; it often reflects how well the professors teach and how fulfilled your entire educational experience will be.

Academic Atmosphere/Social Life

The years you attend college can be some of the most memorable you’ll ever have. Making sure you find a school that has a good work/social balance is important. Schools that foster a sense of unity between students usually help to form bonds that last a lifetime. You don’t have to join a fraternity or sorority in order to have a good college social life. Find out what kinds of clubs the school has, groups, and what kind of restaurants are around in order to plan social outings. Get a good feel for the overall academic atmosphere by paying the campus a visit and walking around for a day or two.

School Size

The size of the school you are interested in can play a role in your success. Depending on what type of person you are, you may prefer a small town school with smaller classes. Or, you might like a larger urban campus with big lecture halls. It often simply hinges on your particular learning style. Larger colleges usually have larger classes, so there is less individual attention. Smaller colleges tend to have smaller classroom sizes, and you might have a better opportunity at working with your professor on a more personal level.

Location

Just like with real estate, one of the most crucial aspects of choosing a college is location, location, location. Do you want to be near home or far away from your parents? Do you enjoy a rural, quiet setting or is a big city school more your style? Think about what your overall lifestyle will be and factor that in with the school’s location. Where a college is located can be important, especially if you have a job you need to get to, or if you want to be in a place with family nearby. Consider location when you are deciding on a school and keep in mind that once you enroll, you will be in this particular location for several years.