Some people pick a college because it is where they have always wanted to go. Others because it was where their parents went. Still, others just go wherever is closest or wherever gives the most cash. So how should you go about picking a college? Well, there is no right or wrong way. But this article is meant to help make it a little easier.
The first thing I would suggest not doing is do not pick a college based on its proximity to your parents or your hometown. For those of you looking to get away, this will be an easy piece of advice to follow. For those of you who are homebodies, it will be much harder.
My advice is unless you are actively planning on living at home to save money do not attend a college closer than 2 hours to the place where you grew up and went to high school. You need to be exposed to different people, different ideas, and get used to making friends. You cannot do this if you stay in your backyard for all of college.
So my location advice is to decide if you want to get away or stay closer. If you want to get away, then the world is your oyster. Do not consider location at all when looking for schools. If you wanna stay close then create a donut on the map. Draw a circle that is 8 hours or so away from where you grew up. Then draw a circle that is 2 hours away. If the school falls between the two circles it is far enough away and close enough to home. Location settled.
Colleges and universities range from smaller than your high school to big enough to have most of your graduating class in a single biology class. Smaller schools are going to have smaller campuses and are generally private meaning they have higher price tags. Larger schools are usually state-run and receive state money. They will have much larger campuses and generally smaller price tags.
However, there are always trade-offs. Smaller schools will allow for much more one-on-one interaction with the professor while larger schools are going to have big notable sports teams. Small colleges will have much closer-knit classes and alumni networks that can assist in job hunting. Larger schools will have much more alumni with many more connections.
Overall, it is a matter of preference. A small school does not promise that it is a studious place and a large school doesn’t mean it is only a party school. Decide if having a football team is worth being in a class with 300 people. Decide if paying a little more is worth being friends with everyone on campus. It is a personal choice.
Obviously, if you know you want to major in a specific subject you should not be considering schools that do not have that major as a choice. However, you should also look at schools that are known for your major.
Please let me remind you, this is only if you are sure of the major you wish to pursue. If you aren’t sure, major is much less important and you should focus on the other aspects when choosing a college, or look at some of our other guides to get a better idea of how to narrow down your focus.
That said, if you are sure that you want to study Computer Science, for example, there is a big difference between going to GA Tech and going to the University of Mississippi. A GA Tech degree simply holds more weight in that field. It isn’t an Ivy League school but it is known for its technology and engineering degrees and so getting such a degree from there will hold more power than the same degree from a different school. Just be mindful of that.
Cost is always on everyone’s mind with college. And it should be, student debt is no joke. College is just like almost everything else in the world in relation to cost, however. The most expensive and the cheapest are probably both the wrong choice. The most expensive college does not offer a degree that is any better than the local state school. And the cheapest online school is usually not worth the money and can often be a scam.
Your best bet is to find several schools that meet your other criteria and then go with the cheapest among them. Include scholarships, room and board, books, and commuting in your calculations. Sometimes the cheapest sticker price might not be the actual best deal if a scholarship puts you ahead somewhere else.
**Note** Cost is important. But your mental health is the most important thing. You are fixing to dedicate at least four years of your life to this place, this atmosphere, these people, and a pursuit of this goal. Don’t skimp on a few thousand extra dollars and end up making yourself miserable.
After you have some idea of what you want in terms of the major categories above, it is time to start doing your research. There are plenty of tools out there to help you pick colleges that allow you to filter by these and other aspects.
CollegeBoard offers a great tool that will help you narrow your search and you can find it here. My suggestion is to narrow it down to 5 schools and then visit them if possible. This should enable you to rank them based on which one you like the best. Then it is just a matter of applying.
But don’t worry. You got this. And we are here to help.