Choose a College

How to Choose a College that’s Right for You

Before you begin reading about hundreds of colleges, it will help to decide just what you are looking for.

The University shown in the picture is Suffolk University in Boston. Some students like the idea of being in the city, of A University on a busy streetbeing near museums and theaters and big stores, and all the nightlife. Many Urban colleges have a large, well-landscaped campus and don’t really seem to be part of the city. For many, that’s just what they want.

Suffolk, as you can see by the picture is different. It isn’t just in the city; it is part of the city. There is no illusion of being in some other setting.

Students who really love the city would be happy here. Others would rather be somewhere else.

START THE PROCESS of finding the college that is right for you

Begin by taking pen and paper and going down this list. If some categories don’t matter at all, then skip them. With other categories such as part of the country – choose one of the possible answers or add another of your own.  You might mark those that see most important. When you get to the end of the list, add other categories that you would consider important.

1. College Size

very small, small, middle-sized, large, very large

2. Location

way out in the country     in or near a small town   in or near small city   near big city   in a big city    Which city?

3. What part of the country

What state or region?   In the Mountains, Near the Ocean, In the Sunny South,  Beautiful Scenery,  or what?

4. Social Situation

Party School      Fraternities and Sororities    a Religious School  (what kind?)     a school focused on learning

5. Requirements – grades and test scores needed

Easy to get into    Fairly easy     average       selective       most selective (very hard to get into)

6.  Cost

Lowest possible cost     offers high financial aid      willing to pay more for the right school     cost doesn’t matter

7. Size of classes

all  small (professor knows our names)

larger classes OK

huge lectures OK with smaller discussion groups

8. Quality of teaching

Professors known for teaching skills (may do little or no research)

grad students teach many classes

Many professors are research oriented and have less time to prepare lectures

9. What’s available in your area of interest?

Very few classes        many classes         can major in subject        great choice of classes by well know professors

10. Meets your special needs or interests

Support for Learning Disabilities   Writing Center     Tutoring    International Students   Ethnic center/programs

11. Special Programs

Semester or year abroad     Internships in your field    Theater or Music groups     Team for your favorite sports

12. Safety Issues

You can deal with living in a high crime area        You  prefer an area with less crime    You are very concerned and want to be in very safe area

13. Level of Diversity

Most students are like me      Some Diversity      Highly Diverse:, race, religion,  GLBT, many nationalities

14. Appearance of the campus

Very traditional – ivy covered    Modern architecture    Beautiful Campus    Well landscaped

15. Transportation

Enough parking spaces    Public transportation     Easy to get to stores     Nearby airport or major highways

16. How close to home? Do you plan to go home for holidays? for laundry?

In the same town     Less than an hour away     2-4 hours away   5-8 hours away      very far away

17. Housing possibilities

Live at home       Live in a dorm      Live off campus      Live with relatives

Other things to consider

If you are studying science, check the lab equipment: a lot of new, expensive equipment, or many years old

If you are aiming for Medical School, Law School, or other graduate work, will this college improve your chances or make it more difficult to get accepted?

Consider your department’s slant on the subject. I changed by major to Philosophy and transferred to the University of Chicago… a great school, BUT I was interested in Existentialist Philosophers. They didn’t consider Existentialists to be philosophers. They only studied classical philosophy: a very poor match.

If studying biology, some schools will focus more on basic research, marine biology, cellular biology,  human biology,   natural history, or the environment. Choose a college that has what you want.

Check out the  professors in  departments you are interested in. You might read what they have written, read about them, talk to other students about them and, if possible, meet them. Be sure you would be happy in their classes.

When you visit schools, look at the dormitories. Would you enjoy living there? Look at libraries. Are they barely adequate, good or fantastic?   What about restaurants and stores near campus?

What Next?

Take your list and rewrite the items in order of importance. You want to use this to sift through the lists of colleges and narrow the list of possibilities.

If your priorities are  1. new Lab Equipment     2. a very large school      3. near mountains for skiing

New lab equipment is hard to sort for. Save this for last.

The easiest to sort is school size. Some college books list schools by size. You can check on the internet for the 100 largest colleges in the US. Print the list.

Near mountains for skiing will be a little harder. Try searching for colleges with ski teams. Otherwise, look at the locations of the largest schools. Schools in Colorado, Vermont, or New Hampshire, for example, are  likely to be in ski country. Another possibility would be to choose the five or six states with the best skiing and search for colleges in those states.

Searching for Christian Schools is easy but be sure it’s the sort of Christian school you really want. Do you want one that’s very conservative or more open-minded? Do you want a Baptist school or Roman Catholic School?

To Narrow the Search Further:

Check the schools on the Internet. Some offer a “virtual tour. Look for the number of foreign students. Look at the organizations. Read the list of classes. Read the college newspaper when possible.  You will get an idea if you’d like this school or if this is NOT the school for you.

You might also try searching for student opinions of the school on the Internet. Be careful here. Some are upset about a poor grade or a professor’s criticism and will tell you how terrible the school is. Other will tell you it’s wonderful. But these varied opinions can give you clues and you can do further research in these areas.

It shouldn’t take too long to start with a book with thousands of schools (overwhelming) to creating a list with about 100 schools and slowly narrow these down to create a list with 20-30 schools which are all good schools for you. Now you can take your time. Read information about the schools in library books, consider the other factors you considered important. Slowly cut the list down to about the five to fifteen best schools.

These are the schools you want to visit. Don’t just take the tour. Spend the night in a dorm. Eat in the cafeteria. Talk to many different students. Go to a few classes. Meet a professor in the area you might want to study.

THIS IS IMPORTANT:   Try to get a short list (4-6 schools) with some schools that should be easy to get into, some that are harder but you’d have a good chance, and a few that are more competitive.  This way you’ll have a chance to see if you can get in that “dream school”, and if the others reject you, you’ll be sure to be accepted in a few schools so you can compare financial aid packages.

Don’t be upset if you don’t get accepted to the one school you really love.  You have a list of schools you will love. You might actually be happier in a school with other students whose grades and test scores are similar to yours. Relax. You can make great friends, have wonderful professors, and get an excellent education at any of the schools on your list.

The next page is  How to choose a college major

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