Unfortunately, there is no mathematical formula you can use to select your college. While you’re mailbox is probably stuffed with glossy brochures and your email inbox has reached capacity as colleges work to recruit such a smart, well-rounded, and excellent student, such as yourself, figuring out which is going to be the right match for you can be more of a challenge.
We hope these tips will help you make one of the biggest decisions of your life. It’s not a simple task, but it should be exciting and empowering. Use these to assess what will make the most sense and help you to achieve your goals for the four years after high school.
1. Use your internal GPS unit
Determine where you want to spend the best four years of your life.
You don’t need complex technology to locate your ideal college. Just ask yourself a few questions:
Do you want to be close to home or far away?
What kind of view do you want from your dorm room window – city lights or nature’s beauty?
Do you prefer a warm winter coat or year-round sunblock?
Easy access to skiing or to off-Broadway theater?
2. Think like Goldilocks
Compare the advantages and disadvantages of small, mid-sized and large colleges.
Colleges come in all shapes and sizes, and what’s hot to someone might seem a little tepid to you. Larger schools often offer more majors ad more visiting lectures and performing groups. Students at smaller schools usually enjoy smaller classes (taught by professors as opposed to graduate students) and more opportunities to work with professors on collaborative research.
3. Tend to your ducks
Consider what high school classes you’ve enjoyed and look into colleges that offer courses in subjects you’d like to study.
Your ducks may already be in a row (if you know what you want to major in) or they may still be a little scattered. If you’re not yet certain what kind of degree or career path to pursue, identify two or three of your interests and consider colleges that offer courses in those subjects.
4. Find your space
Think about what kind of learning environment you’d find most exciting and challenging.
Compare things like class sizes, the “feel” of campus, facilities and student-professor interactions. Research what types of study abroad, collaborative research, unique semester or quarter formats are available.
5. Spread your wings
Put some thought into what you’d like to do outside of the classroom.
Sensational soccer player? Talented musician eager for a stage? College is the time to top your record or break the mold. Extracurricular activities can introduce you to other students, provide a good balance to academic activities and even provide career training, so consider what interests you and investigate what’s offered.
6. Empower your piggy bank
Don’t eliminate a school that looks good just because it appears expensive.
Regardless of where you go, a college education is a big investment. So make sure you pick a school where your degree will pay off. Keep in mind that while many people assume public institutions are drastically cheaper, that’s not always the case. Many private schools offer scholarships, grants and on-campus work opportunities to help offset higher costs.
7. Go shopping online
Check out the websites of all the colleges that interest you.
There’s no easier way to learn about a college than by perusing its website. Most have lots of information (and even virtual tours) for prospective students. If you’re not sure what colleges are out there, start by visiting Colleges of Distinction or College Navigator to learn about a wide variety of schools and see how they compare to each other.
8. Invite yourself over
Once you have a list of schools that look good to you, try to visit each one.
Visiting campus will give you a feel for the college and the students who go there. Talking to professors and walking around the campus – maybe even sitting in on a class – could tremendously impact your final decision. We recommend that you visit a school before you apply, but some students prefer to wait until after they have been admitted.
9. Practice for college
You will need to stay on top of many deadlines related to college applications, so establish a tracking system early on. Create a calendar just for college-related deadlines and events. You might also want to label three boxes with “top priority,” “possible” and “no longer interested” to help you sort all of the college brochures you will be receiving.
10. Practice for college (the sequel)
College admission counselors are standing by for your call! Well, they might not actually be standing by 24/7, but they’ll certainly call back, email or meet you in person whenever they can to answer all of your questions.