You might have gotten feedback from your parents, your school guidance counselor, and whoever else offers up suggestions for picking your school, and maybe you’re still not sure.
This is not a rare scenario. Almost every high school senior has dealt with feelings of uncertainty regarding where they want to go to college. There are so many factors to consider, but here are a few I found most important to my overall college happiness.
The most important aspects are not necessarily the parties and nightlife, regardless of how much media and movies make it seem like this is so. If you plan on going to parties, think about it. A couple Friday and Saturday nights a month are all the time you’ll be really spending partying. What about the rest of your time on campus? You have four years at your university, and you should be proactive about finding a school where you will enjoy every minute.
Most important is the obvious need to focus on the academics. At the end of the day, that’s why you are going to college. Would you be comfortable in a lecture hall with 200 other students vying for a professor’s attention, and being graded by a TA? Are you okay with having a very small window of availability to meet with your professor due to the high volume of students he has? Or would you be more comfortable in a small classroom setting, where your professor knows you by name? These are two very different scenarios, and completely affect a college experience. Understanding the best way for you to learn is crucial to college success.
Some schools also have programs that are stronger than others. Although many have a variety of academic programs, if you’re interested in business, for example, you might want to research what the top business schools are, and find a school with a renowned program where you’ll get a strong business education, as well as name drop a school that companies hiring in that field will know of and respect. You’ll have more opportunities open to you and more connections with companies that can lead to internships and jobs.
Next, would you feel more a part of your college campus if you recognize the majority of kids you walk past in the dining hall or the quad everyday? Or would you like to constantly meet new people, even during your senior year? This affects your social life as well in terms of Greek life. Joining a sorority or a fraternity is seen as almost essential at some campuses, particularly those with a higher volume of students. So, if you’re hoping to go to a big school, but are not interested in Greek life, another important aspect is looking at the student clubs and organizations, and finding a few that you’d like to join. This will help you narrow down the large pool of students and find yourself in smaller groups with people similar to you, to make friends with.
Dorm life is also important. Some dorms are more social than others, and depending on your preferences this might be an influential factor in your decision as well. Living in a very social dorm means that at late hours of the night people will still be walking through, and it will be hard to find quiet time to do homework in your room. However it also means you’re likely to meet more people, so the trade-off depends on your personal preferences.
Did you love going to sporting events in high school? Were you a kid who dressed up, painted your face, and cheered until your voice was hoarse? You should consider looking into schools with great athletic programs and a huge sports following. Similarly, if you have always loved the idea of traveling, and want a chance to study abroad, research the study abroad programs that schools you’re interested in offer to find one that sounds good.
And finally, proximity to home and financial aid packages are of utmost importance as well. No matter who you are and how far you’ve traveled to college, there will be moments where you are homesick. I go to a school across the country from where I grew up, and I had days where I just wanted to curl up in bed and cry. But, so did my roommate, whose home is 20 minutes away from our campus. It’s a normal part of the experience. However, if you’re more of a homebody at heart, going to a school where you can only go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas might not be the best call. It’s about what you’d be most comfortable with, because it really is a huge step, no matter how far you decide to go.
Financial aid also plays into almost every student’s college decision making process. More competitive schools or a “reach” school you get into might not offer you as great of a financial package as a school that you knew you’d easily get into, and exceed requirements for. Ultimately, the costs of college can be a major roadblock in the decision. However, if you have to “settle” for a school that offered a better package, do not think of it as settling. Don’t be disappointed and don’t give up on having that dream college experience you’ve always wanted. Many who end up at schools different from the ones they hoped to attend originally have realized when they finally gave these schools a chance, how great they are. Every school has something amazing to offer, you just have to be willing to look for it.
Not every piece of this advice should (or can) be followed. It’s almost impossible to meet every single criterion, but at the end of the day even if you do find your “perfect” school, your gut might tell you to look back at that other school. When it tells you, listen. And sure, you might find a school that dedicates Fridays to tailgating and football games just as you wanted, but their academic programs might not be what you want, and the busy, crowded dorm you’re assigned might make you uncomfortable. In reality, every school has its tradeoffs, but with so many different universities out there you’ll definitely find a great fit for you.
- Lauren Mahoney Santa Clara University '18. Lauren is a psychology and communication double major.