Calling all prospective college students!
Are you starting the daunting (that means intimidating — there’s an SAT word!) process of applying to college? Are you wondering how to choose the school that’s right for you? This decision is a tough one that only becomes tougher when you start getting accepted all over!
But there are ways to narrow down your decision. There are considerations every student needs to make before sealing the deal. You’re about to spend at least four years here, so it’s crucial to make sure you’ve chosen well!
With at least 5,300 colleges and universities in the U.S., how do you pick just one? Don’t worry — many have made this decision before you.
Let’s see how they found their fit.
1. Location, Location, Location
The location of your future school plays a big part in the college experience.
Will you be going to the local community college and staying with family in the meantime? Or are you packing up your belongings and moving cross-country? This is perhaps one of the biggest decisions in the college-picking process.
If you’re planning a big move, you’ll then need to focus on living arrangements, too. Are you renting an off-campus apartment or staying in a dorm? You’ll need to get that arranged as soon as possible.
If you’re staying local, you’ve got some advantages, such as the ability to tour campuses with ease. You can also save that money you’d be putting towards apartment or dorm living (and put it towards student loans instead).
Additionally, the location may determine your tuition, too. Some schools cost less for residents of that same state. Some may charge higher tuition for out-of-state applicants.
2. What’s the Ambience?
The setting of your school is important not only in its location but its ambiance. What is the setting of your school? Is it a concrete jungle or in a field of green?
Some of these traits can only get measured through campus visits. This will alert you to how the campus feels, something you can’t exactly gauge online. This tells you about the school’s presence, vibes, and daily occurrences.
You want an atmosphere that is warm, inviting, diverse. Your surroundings should make you happy, excited, and willing to learn. Your access to the campus is important in ensuring you have the greatest experience.
3. How Large Is the School? Your Area of Study Within It?
The size of your school means a lot in how you’ll act and react within it. If you’re a small-time gal moving to the big city, or a city guy with a hankering for some peace and quiet, the school’s body will play a big part in what you get out of it.
Similarly, so will the size of your area of study.
The larger your scope — i.e., Business or Psychology — the larger your classrooms will be and the less one-on-one time you’re likely to receive, depending. The more niche your track — say, Creative Writing — the smaller your teacher to student ratio is likely to be.
These are all things worth thinking about before saying, “Yes.”
4. The University’s Type
The type of college you apply to affects its tuition, its academics, and more. Some types of colleges you can expect to see are:
- Public colleges – Funded by local and state governments. Usually offer lower tuition
- Private colleges – Rely on tuition, fees, and private donations for funding.
- For-profit colleges – Businesses that offer degree programs for students looking for a specific career path
- Two-year colleges – Like your local community college. Offer Associate’s level degrees
- Four-year colleges – Universities or liberal arts colleges that offer Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and more
- Universities – Usually larger than average colleges. Offer a larger amount of degree options. Grad study is common here
Choosing your college type is all about your endgame, your preferences, your future.
5. Consider Costs
Of course, finance is a huge factor to consider when applying to college.
You’ll need to familiarize yourself with tuition costs, extra fees, the cost of books or supplement materials. You’ll also need to ask the right questions — can I apply for financial aid or Are there scholarships available?
Try and make a comparison chart to determine what you can afford. Figure out what your monthly payments and budget would be for each college you’re considering.
6. Supplement Research with Visits
Research is a great way to narrow down your decision. But supplementing research with face-to-face visits is another critical way to make a well-rounded choice.
Unfortunately, visiting isn’t always an option — especially if you’re applying to colleges all across the United States. (Future college students typically don’t have jet-setter-sized wallets.) But if you’re able to set foot on campus first, do it.
If not, make sure you’re researching the college outside of its university website (which, understandably, can be a bit biased). Go to other sources, like forums such as Reddit. Here, you’ll find honest commentary from internet users and students just like yourself.
Do whatever possible to make sure your college is a legitimate, prestigious choice. You don’t want to do all this work only to find out your first choice was a scam! (Learn more about phony diplomas here — yes, that’s a thing.)
Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you know how to apply to college, we’ll tell you how not to. Here are some mistakes to avoid when finding the fit for you:
- Procrastinating your decision — and then rushing to make one in time
- Picking a school only because your friend group, boyfriend, girlfriend, go there
- Picking a school because of its epic party scene
- Making a choice to spite others rather than help yourself
- Relying on surface-level research or testimonials
- Either not considering costs or considering them too much you’ve become pigeon-holed
- You’re only going there because you love their sports team
Although the advice of your family, friends, coworkers, and teachers is great, at the end of the day, this decision is up to you. You’re about to lay the foundation for the rest of your life.
Make it a good one.
Applying to College? You Got This!
You made it through the last four years of school — studying, taking notes, testing, group projects, deadlines, responsibilities. If you can do all that, then applying to college will be a breeze for you!
Whatever you decide, go with all your heart. (And brain. Can’t forget your brain.)
And because college isn’t exactly cheap, we’ve got more advice for you on that subject, too. Here are 5 crucial steps to paying off student loans! The more you know now, the better financially prepared you can be.