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How to Choose a College that’s Right for You

Written by

Sam Mire

Date

January 26, 2018

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Choosing a college or university should not be a quick endeavor. It’s one of the first mature decisions anybody will have to make, and it requires careful consideration and ample time spent weighing pros and cons. Fortunately, many wise men and women have crystallized the formula for picking the ideal school. Knowing the formula is a start, but every impending college freshman must ask themselves: what matters most to me? Here are some tips on how to choose a college that’s right for you.

How to choose a college

Two-Year or Four-Year

Virtually every job today requires a college degree or some level of post-high school education. Deciding not to go to college is not an option any more and comes with real consequences. Fortunately, given the many options available, there is no excuse for not going to college. Community colleges have made it possible for virtually any high school graduate to attend an institution of higher education. The first choice one must make is whether they are ready for the leap straight to a four-year university. For many, a two-year institution makes most sense. While community colleges tend to have fewer resources, faculty, and course options than their four-year counterparts, they can be the perfect way to ease into college life. Many states provide for seamless transfer from a state-sanctioned community college into the state-university system, meaning that you can use your time at the community college to improve your grades and save some money while ultimately graduating from a four-year institution.

And the good news is that there are many high-paying careers for which a two-year associate degree is all that is required. (read article – Five good reasons to attend community college).

Campus Location

Where your prospective school is located may be the most crucial factor in determining whether you will last four years, and whether you will enjoy or merely endure those years. Take an honest accounting of your educational experience. If you went to a small, private school your entire life, would you feel comfortable at a gigantic state university? Perhaps the answer is yes, but be honest.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1) how close to or far from home do I want to be?

2) what is the ideal student body size for my personality?

3) what will the weather be like at its worst, and can I handle it?

4) how important is Greek life to me, and how prevalent are fraternities and sororities on campus?

5) Is the general look and feel of the campus one that I could see myself in for four years?

6) Is the college location conducive or easily accessible for potential internships and job opportunities in my preferred field of study? For example, if you are looking to enter the movie industry, a college in California will make the most sense. 

Other factors to consider are the importance of athletics within campus life. Some schools are known for school-spirit that is directly tied to athletic teams, while other schools are centered around other communal activities and traditions. Also, consider the proximity to major cities, local transportation options, availability of parking, and the condition of the department you are most likely to be a member of.

Make sure that you visit the campus personally before committing to attend a school, talk to students and ask for their honest opinion of campus life. This includes asking what they enjoy as well as would improve about life on a specific campus. When it comes to choosing a school, we cannot stress enough how important being comfortable as a member of a campus and a community is.

Academics

Keep in mind this list on how to choose a college is in no particular order. Academics will likely be the first indicator of which schools you are eligible to attend. Some students will elect to attend the finest academic institution which they are accepted into. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but others may consider more strongly the culture of a campus, scholarships, and other factors in making their final decision.

Anybody who tells you that a school’s academic reputation is unimportant is lying. However, academics are far from the only consideration. It is likely that the schools you apply to will be somewhat similar in terms of academics. If you are like most, some will throw scholarship money at you, while others will simply tell you ‘no thanks’, denying you entry and temporarily crushing your dreams.

Your SAT score and high school academic performance will largely determine your options. Whether you want to go to the very best academic school or the school you feel most comfortable with is up to you. If you are lucky, they will be one in the same.

Looking for career advice? Choosing a college or career is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Make sure you get all the help you need. Go to the College Mouse career directory to find a career counselor near you.

Or sign up for our upcoming Keys to Career Success course. We will walk you through the steps you need to follow as you chart your career journey – from how to narrow your career options, choose a college major and decide where to study, all the way to how to plan your job search, switch careers, and position yourself for your dream job. Click here to sign up

Tuition and Scholarships

It cannot be emphasized enough how important financial decisions related to college are. Ask any graduate, they will lament to you their biggest burden: student debt. Most of us who have graduated feel the pain of college debt all too well, but too few pre-university students take the time to consider the weight of a student loan. Lots can happen in the span of four or more years, and your dream job, or any job at all, may or may not be awaiting you when you throw your cap in the air and shed your graduation gown.

Scholarships are extremely important, don’t take them for granted. Check out our scholarships page for over 200 scholarships you can apply to. Free money is rare in this world, and there is no shame in letting the scholarships dictate your choice in college.

Of course, being happy and intellectually stimulated is most important, but if you are only applying to schools that you are genuinely considering, scholarship money can be a deal-breaker, and rightfully so.

Take Your Time

Choosing a school is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime choice. Whether you attend a two-year community college, a four-year university, or some combination of both, be deliberate in your approach. Conduct ample research, take as many visits as possible, talk to students on campus.

And, at the end of the day, follow your heart. Don’t forget to let your mind do some of work, too.

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Written by:  Sam Mire

Sam Mire is a freelance writer with a niche in local and national politics as well as current events. He has had ghost-written political pieces published in USA Today, Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat, Sunshine State News, and other prominent publications. A graduate of University of South Florida, he has a Bachelor’s in journalism.

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