It’s that time in the United States when high school juniors are starting to make a list of college to which they will apply and high school seniors are deciding which offer to accept for the fall semester. For some, the decision is easy because they have a dream school that accepts them and that they can afford to attend. For others, the decision can seem overwhelming and induce panic attacks. As a university professor who has applied to and attended a lot of colleges, I thought I would share some advice on ways you can narrow your list and ultimately choose the right college for you.
First, take into account all of the financial considerations associated with your decision. Look at the financial aid offer and decide if it is feasible for you and your family. The truth is that you might not be able to afford the school of your dreams even if you get accepted, and you need to find a way to let go to make a decision. Also, look at opportunities associated with more expensive schools to decide if they are really worth the extra cost.
Rank and prioritize what is most important to you
What is important to you in choosing a college? You might include things like class size, student population, student diversity, extracurricular activities, athletics, study abroad opportunities, and location or distance from home on your list. Write down anything that could be a part of your decision.
Then, rank each school in each of the categories on your list. If there is one college that ranks first in everything, your decision is clear. Otherwise, prioritize each characteristic. For example, is a high ranking in study abroad and class size most important or is a high ranking in athletics and location? You are looking to find the college that ranks highest in the categories that are the most important to you.
By the time you are deciding whether or not to attend a college, you have probably already been on campus. If possible, go visit again now when you have a different mindset about attending the school. See if the classrooms look like places where you will be motivated to learn and if there are adequate study spaces. Are the dorms a place that you want to live? Look around at the campus and the students and see if you get the feeling that it is a fit for you.
Talk to students and alumni
The level of excitement and enthusiasm that alumni have for their alma mater should give you a sense of what you should expect. Current students are great sources of information about campus life, courses, and degree programs. You can ask any department to refer a current student to you for more information. Most will be happy to give advice and answer questions.
Talk to faculty
I don’t get many inquiries about classes from high school students, but I do get questions about my classes and degree program from students looking to change their major. Contacting faculty, however, will give you a lot of insight into what you might expect as a student. Whether or not your questions and interest are welcomed and the professors’ enthusiasm about their courses and students will be obvious. Look for a faculty that will take the time to listen and to answer your questions now. If they don’t do it now, they probably won’t do it later either.