College is a huge investment so finding the right college for you is vital. You can spend 4-6 years of your life in college and graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, on average so why not make sure you are at the right school. With the cost being so high, you want to make sure you are making the right choice about which college to attend. Academic reputation, proximity to home, size of the school, location (urban or rural), extracurricular activities available on campus should all be factors to consider when you are talking about being married to a school for the 4 years of your life. Let’s go into the best things to consider when finding the right college.
1) Consider the Cost
One of the biggest considerations while deciding on colleges should be how much it will cost you for your 4-year degree. Is the college offering any form of financial aid, grants, or scholarships to offset your out-of-pocket cost to attend? If not, then you should probably steer clear unless finances are not a concern to you or your family. Some schools might require up to $60,000 while others can be as low as $20,000 a year. Keep in mind that college tuition is only one form of the cost you will incur at school; books, supplies, room, and board are all other budget considerations. The average student spends $200-300 per month on books and supplies, $200 a month for food, and up to $1200 per semester or year of housing. Just remember, everything adds up!
How do you know if the school is worth the cost? This is all something a little bit of reflection, research, consulting your family, and talking to a professional can help with. Every situation is going to be different depending on certain factors. A big question you might want to reflect on is WHY do I want to go to this particular school? Is it because of the name and reputation of the school? Or is it the specific program you want to study under? Is it because all of your friends are going to this school? If any of these questions are yes and this particular school comes with a big price tag, maybe consider other options unless your family can afford the expense. If you would like to learn our best ways to get college paid for, click here. We’ve written an entire article talking about the best strategy to pay for college.
Now, this is a massive consideration that many students overlook. Is staying local an important variable for you? If so, are you going to stay at home to save on housing costs or is a reasonable hour drive away from the family negotiable? There are lots to consider when you are talking about the location of a college. Homesickness is not a made-up condition. Many students experience this and it can lead to some mental health issues if left unresolved. Remember, you are effectively going to be married to this school for at least the next 4 years. Answer any questions you might have about the location of the school with an open heart. If you have never been away from your family for more than a few weeks, consider staying locally or within a reasonable drive to make the transition easier.
Another geographical issue is the weather. I know you might be thinking, “what does the weather have to do with college?” Many students who have never experienced harsh weather might not want to explore the northern schools that have cold weathers for almost half the year. Seasonal depression, vitamin D issues, and general acclimation issues can arise on top of the current transition away from family and friends. Be aware of this when considering a different climate than you are used to. Many students have trouble adjusting to their new environment and their grades tend to suffer as a result.
3) College Life
This is a consideration and you must be honest about it when finding the right college. Big class sizes, sporting events, greek life, and a diverse student body might be really alluring to many students. You might want to really get everything you can out of the college experience. That means having a huge campus life and a city that encourages this lifestyle. If that is the case, many large regional colleges can offer this opportunity to you. They are typically state-run and depending on the school, they can be highly competitive. These colleges can give you opportunities for abroad travel, large national and international networks, and a diverse range of majors that smaller colleges just can’t provide. All of these opportunities might sound great but they also might come with their own set of challenges. Some pitfalls might be lack of support due to large student body populations, competitive admission requirements, little to no merit scholarships, hard-to-get classes due to overcrowding, and a longer graduation track. These are just some things to consider when you are looking for a larger school.
Smaller schools on the other hand might sound more appealing to you. The thought of getting lost in the hustle and bustle of a large school intimidates you. Smaller regional schools or a private college might be a little more what you are looking for. You might not have the same diversity that you would at a big school but you will have a little more attention given and support on hand if needed. This support and attention are not without their own issues as well. Small colleges more often than not have a huge price tag. They typically are small private colleges that increase their prices for the smaller class size and more personal relationships with your professors. Also, you might not have the same study tracks that many larger institutions provide. The smaller colleges might be geared more towards liberal arts and won’t offer STEM programs.
Something to consider
Another thing to consider when finding the right college is if you can easily change your major. According to the Department of Education, 62% of students take 6 years to complete their undergraduate degree. There are a number of reasons this can happen but one of the biggest setbacks is a change of major. Many students come to us when they are 15 years old swearing that they want to be a doctor. It’s safe to say that some actually complete that dream however a majority actually change their track before they’ve even applied to med school. This is not a bad thing. This is just to say that college opens up areas that can change your previous trajectory. Most high schools don’t offer the diverse subjects that many universities offer. This gives you exposure to things that you were never aware of. Give yourself the option to be flexible. Going to a school that gives you an easy way to change majors will save you lots of time in the long run.
4) Life after graduation
Many students choose their college based on the 4 years they plan on attending. This is where we see so many students fall short. When you think about why you are actually going to college, it’s the possibility of setting yourself up for a brighter career future that should be the main focus. That is not to say that you cant have a very successful career without a college degree but the intent on getting a degree is to be a more desirable candidate in the job market.
When ultimately deciding on which college to choose from, it shouldn’t be a one-way street. You as a student get to have a level of expectations from the college as well. You are spending a ton of money on an education that should in theory pay off in the long run. Hit the colleges with the hard questions like:
- Do you have any job placement programs for students?
- What does your internship network look like?
- How many students find professional jobs in their field of study within a year after graduation?
These are valuable things to consider from your desired institution and you deserve to align yourself with a college that cares about the future and well-being of its alumni. Get on-campus, knock on some doors, and ask questions that will benefit YOUR future. Don’t let the college sucker you into some fancy name that has no value to your future career. Be your own advocate and make your decision based on how the university treats its student body.
Finding the right college or university for yourself is not always easy but can be worth the extra energy in order to avoid common mistakes. Following the steps we laid out will help to significantly reduce your stress during this process. Please leave us a comment below if you have any questions or if you think we might have missed something that you found valuable in your process. We love hearing from our readers!