You’re in! After months and months of studying for the SATs or ACTs, maintaining your grades, filling out applications, writing essays, asking for recommendations, and impatiently waiting, you have finally earned a spot in one (or a few!) of the schools from your college list. Even after all that work, the hard part still may not be over. Unless you already know exactly where you want to attend school and have no doubts whatsoever, picking which college to attend can be a very stressful decision. When I was picking between a couple of schools, I visited them both again so I had a fresh perspective. Of course, I ended up transferring colleges, but I learned a lot from that experience and have a better idea of what to think about when deciding on a college.
These are the critical factors to consider once you have been accepted to college…
What Do You Want to Study?
This can be a tough question. You don’t have to declare your major until the end of sophomore year, and unless you have a direct path you want to follow, you should spend your initial semester exploring new topics and being open to a major you might never have thought of before. However, it is important that you take a look at all of the classes and majors offered at each school to be sure that there are at least three topics of interest to you. Think about which professors you would want to learn from, the types of classes offered, and the major requirements. These classes will be a major time commitment when you are at college, so choose a school that has departments that best correlate with your interests.
Visit the School Again
You might change a lot in the time between when you first visit a school and just before you graduate high school.
Talk to Current Students
If you visit the school again, be sure to talk to as many students as you can. Most students are willing to offer their opinions and advice. Ask lots of questions about their experience at that college to get a feel for if it will be the right fit for you. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the school’s campus, read up on college blogs to get a sense of what the students are like. You may even be able to reach out to the school to see if they have the phone numbers or email addresses of students who would be willing to share their experiences at that college. It will be helpful to hear real life situations to see if you relate or not.
Talk to Alumni
Speaking with people who have graduated from a school you are looking at can be very helpful to see what their experiences were like, as well as what they are currently up to. Maybe one alum has a job somewhere you would love to work, or in an industry that fascinates you. You’ll get a very honest opinion from alumni because they have completed their schooling and have had a couple of years to reflect on their experiences.
Small versus Large
You probably thought about this when you were first creating your list of schools to apply to. I encourage you to think about this again. If you applied to both small colleges and large universities, take a moment to think about the environment that you learn best in. Do you prefer a smaller class size where you can get more attention from the professor, or do you enjoy being surrounded by hundreds of interesting classmates with a variety of opinions and experiences? The size of school really does have an impact on both your educational and personal experiences.
College is expensive. Period. If you received Financial Aid or Scholarships, congratulations! That’s amazing. However, if you did not, thinking about the cost of college is very important. Not only is the tuition an important aspect of this budget analysis, but also think about travel costs to and from college to home, food costs, and living expenses when you are living on your own. These vary for everyone, but the little things do add up and can play a crucial role in your decision making process.
Let’s face it, you probably want a job when you graduate. Or an internship for the summers while you are still in college. Or maybe even a part-time job while you are attending school. Do some research and figure out which schools in your ‘Accepted List’ have strong and well-connected career service centers. These college career service departments usually have their own websites. Take a look and find out whether the school will help you with interviewing, job placement, and resume writing.
What kinds of clubs and organizations are available on campus? Do some research to find a couple of clubs that you might want to join on your first day. Are you playing sports or want to play a club sport? You should make sure your school of choice offers that. Have you always wanted to be a part of student government? A language club? Volunteer services? Browse through all of the offerings and think about what you might want to be a part of.
Most schools offer study abroad, and many have incredible programs. Instead of asking generic questions such as, “Do you have programs in France or Spain?,” ask specific questions that will actually affect you. “Which study abroad programs are best for the topic/major that I am interested in?” Certain study abroad programs are stronger than others in certain departments, and you want to make sure your school can provide those options and assistance when the time comes to apply. Some schools have reputations built around their study abroad programs. If traveling and studying outside of the U.S. is important to you, then you should pick the school with the strongest study abroad program.
There is no question that you have personal preferences when it comes to which school you want to attend. Maybe you applied to a wide variety of schools so that you would have many options to choose from. If so, then this is very critical. Think about the things that really matter to you, besides the educational aspect. Do you want a campus or a more urban campus? Do you want to be in the suburbs or the city? How far do you actually want to travel to get home for the holidays? Does the school attract a certain type of person? Are there exclusive groups? Do you want to be at a school with or without a Greek system? To be taught by T.A.s or not to be taught by T.A.s? There are many small decisions that go into making the overall decision, so do not overlook your personal preferences.
Don’t wait until the day before you have to commit to a school to think about these decisions. If you do, you will feel rushed and may make a decision you will come to regret. While you can always transfer, do you really want to do the entire application process all over again? Take it from me, it’s not fun.