If you’re a high school student, you’ve almost certainly considered whether or not you would like to go to college. For many of you, the answer is likely yes. If you are considering university, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the wide range of option available to you.
You certainly want to get into the best school for you. However, the best college may frequently just mean the ‘most popular school’ rather than a school where you shall thrive academically, socially, and beyond. Notably, your chosen college will touch critical aspects of your life. For this reason, try to get a feel of the school and how it complements with who you are and what you want.
Location is by far one of the most crucial factors in choosing a college. This is why there are a lot of students who prefer to study in colleges near their area. You can benefit from more affordable in-state tuition and save money when you stay near to your family. You can also cut your travel expenses since car rides are less expensive compared to airfare. For instance, you may want to check out the best colleges in North Carolina if you live in that state in order to take advantage of the lower tuition rates.
Considering its significance, freshmen should carefully decide where they choose to enroll after skimming over their options. Moreover, it would be best to get started on the application process during your final year in senior high. This allows you to have ample of time for campus visits, taking standardized exams, writing essays, passing applications, and the like. Deadlines may vary per college—however, applications are generally due by January for fall admission.
To help you further and to avert procrastination, here are guidelines to follow when looking for the right college:
1. Attend College Fairs
College fairs are often huge, crowded, and exciting events. They can also be overwhelming due to all the students vying for the attention of a limited number of college representatives. Nonetheless, these can be a great opportunity to delve into the college search process.
If there is a National College Fair in your area, go and maximize this opportunity because plenty of schools will be there. Engage as many college representatives as possible and shoot all your questions. If a college rep recognizes that you are interested and familiar with the school, then that impression may create a huge impact. A few thoughtful, informed questions would be best.
However, it’s also okay to approach a school you are unfamiliar with in order to broaden your horizons. There may be a perfect fit out there for you that you may not have heard of because there are just too many options out there for you to have known of them all.
Stop at the schools you’ve never encountered before. Gather as much information as you can hold and get to know their fee packages. This is your chance to have an idea regarding these unfamiliar colleges, so don’t be reluctant. The college reps are there specifically tell you about their school so don’t worry about wasting their time. However, you should also be prepared to talk about yourself and what you are looking for.
When you’ve finished asking your questions and feel satisfied with the answers, then be sure to ask the college reps for their contact details. Use it if you have more queries after you’ve left the event.
2. Visit Campuses
Campus visits are a crucial part of your college search.
When it is time to start sending in applications, think hard about where you want to attend. The final cut of potential colleges may prompt you another visit. Perhaps, you already have gotten a campus feel during initial college tours. However, it might be best to take another visit and prepare detailed questions to your chosen college department. Take it as an opportunity to get acclimated and shoot questions to your potential college teachers.
If you are unable to take a campus tour again, then you may opt for a second look at the campus virtual tour. Then, for further inquiries, you may send them in to your college webpage or intended email address.
Whether it’s a personal or virtual tour, take time to weigh the pros and cons of each college. Carefully consider your wants and needs when thinking about where you shall spend the next four years.
- 3. Academic Standards
Reading trusted, published rankings can help you to get a sense of a school’s academic reputation and quality.
No college can provide the best programs for every single field of expertise, no matter what their marketing efforts may say. So, be sure to pay attention to the standards used by specific websites or organizations to assess colleges.
Some may draw appeal from acceptance, retention, and graduation rates. Others may prioritize input from alumni and professors while some evaluations might place significance to a department’s career and research achievements. Criteria may vary from each organization, so be sure to conduct thorough research.
College rankings can be one tool in the decision process—however, bear in mind to examine other crucial scales such as academic recognitions. For instance, ensure that the school is granted with accreditation. Regional accreditation in particular is regarded as a reliable determiner of academic quality. Likewise, examine whether or not a school’s departments are accredited by a credible association.
4. School Size
Colleges and universities come in all sizes, ranging anywhere from a thousand to tens of thousands depending on the school.
While small colleges may not provide as many programs as large universities can, they do support specialized programs. Likewise, small colleges also have smaller class sizes, so your professors and counselors can give you more specialized attention. However, you may need to take note that course offerings and activities may be more limited in small colleges.
On the other hand, students with clear objectives tend to grow at large universities due to the plethora of resources available to them. Because of their large amounts of funding, large universities possess well-supplied libraries, state-recognized sports teams, and advanced research facilities. Big universities may offer plenty of classes and majors. However, they can also be a quite intimidating and professors may be less accessible. Despite this, it is still possible to find your niche at any large university.
Some may opt for large lecture halls where they can absorb all the basics and study independently. Others may thrive in colleges that offer small, discussion-based classes. To find a college that suits your learning style, ask how classes are structured, and research the courses you’re most interested with. Find out how the size of the school might influence your entire college experience.
5. Entire College Cost
Apart from affordable tuition, the best colleges also boast expansive financial aid packages. If you need student loans to supplement any scholarships or grants you may have obtained, then plan ahead and strategize—you need to borrow smart.
Tuition costs vary by college. While private colleges tend to come with a higher price tag, there may also be institutional aid. If you are looking to graduate from college with little to no debt, carefully compare financial assistance from each college. It would be fitting to look beyond tuition and see other applicable fees.
Likewise, learn to differentiate free money—e.g., grants and scholarships—from loans, which you need to pay back. Some colleges provide generous financial aid packages that meet full financial need.
With all of these options available to you, consult the university’s registrar regarding grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities offered at your prospective college.
Moreover, it is good to know that choosing a college near you implies that you'll get tuition discounts, likely by tens of thousands of dollars.
6. Campus Environment
Consider the campus vibe that you want. A lot of your time in college will be spent in activities outside the classroom. Hence, it is equally significant to examine the campus environment when selecting your prospect college. Remember that both personal and professional growth can occur outside classes. Depending on your interests and priorities, look for colleges that would transform and bring out the best in you. For instance, you may want to attend an institution affiliated with a religion or with a strong commitment to athletics, Greek life, or the arts.
For the serious athletes out there, athletics will likely be a large factor in your college search. Talk to your coach and any coaches from the colleges that you meet and ask them to assess your odds of being invited to join the varsity team.
Even if you aren’t aiming to become a college athlete, attending a school with a robust sports program encourages you to watch games, which is a significant social event for many college students. Similarly, intramural sports clubs can allow you to create bonds, just as other recreational events and activities do.
College extracurriculars can expand your interests and connections. From academic clubs to cultural groups to theater troupes, campus clubs can potentially help you determine if you’re on the right career track. Likewise, this can help you enhance practical skills and knowledge.
If academic achievement is your target, consider enrolling at a research university. These institutions place substantial funding and resources toward department projects across all disciplines, whether you plan on focusing on STEM, social sciences, or the humanities.
The campus atmosphere will likely be an important part of your satisfaction in the college experience. This can have a profound effect on your entire college experience. Look for colleges with opportunities that match your lifestyle and support your aspirations.
7. Support Systems and Resources
Colleges do have ample of resources to support you throughout your time on campus and often long after you graduate.
Make sure that the universities or colleges that you apply to can cater to your essential needs—spiritual or religious needs, pre-existing medical conditions, special learning requirements, and so on. Many students encounter significant emotional and mental struggles when beginning college, so you may want to check counselor-to-student ratio and the availability healthcare services beforehand.
For many students, colleges should provide tutoring programs, such as writing and tutoring services that are commonplace among most universities.
Additionally, one reason to attend college is to set yourself up for a job. For this reason, your college of choice should offer career services to help you gain internships, write effective resumes and cover letters, and network with potential employers. Make sure that the resources are sufficient to give you the aid that you'll need.
Career centers offer you a variety of services. These help you develop soft skills, supply employment and salary data, endorse internship leads, conduct mock interviews, and more.
8. Know Your Priorities
In reality, colleges have various strengths for different student populations. The best school is the one that offers you the chance to stretch out from your comfort zone. It will challenge your ideas and invite you to new ways of engaging.
Finding colleges that suit you may mean rejecting conventional ideas of what is a good, popular, or a validating school. It may also mean disregarding titles and recognition such as whether or not your parents went there, if it’s regarded as an Ivy League school, and the like.
Ultimately, it's up to you to point out which factors matter for your lifestyle and what you yearn to attain out of your education. The process may take a bit of introspection and a whole lot of research; however, once you have identified these factors, you can then create a list of schools and begin researching them.
Summing It Up
After going through all these college guidelines, you may then begin looking for the best schools for you. Remember to be open-minded as you research for colleges. Be cautious when listing them just because they are regarded as ‘prestigious.’
Look over your priorities and preferences. Bear in mind that although a college possesses your target major, it doesn’t necessarily imply that it is the right fit for you. Moreover, be open to unfamiliar colleges. You never know what you’ll find until you delve into your college search.