Choosing A College: Some Suggestions

If you applied to more than one school, and if you did your homework and chose places that fit you and where you have a reasonable chance of being admitted, you may soon be in a position to select from multiple offers of admission. Should you be this lucky, how do you go about choosing a college, a momentous decision? Here are some variables that I recommend students consider in order to make a sound choice.

Academic Fit

First, which of the schools that accepted you comes closest to offering the academic experience you hope to have?  Consider which schools offer majors that interest you, or THE major that interests you if you’ve made a choice. Consider also the strength of those programs, something you can root out by consulting databases, or doing simple online searches (e.g. top U.S. college business programs). What is the average class size at the school, do faculty invite students to participate in research efforts, and what is the predominant teaching style of the faculty? Does the school conduct research on student experiences (for example do they participate in the National Survey on Student Engagement), and if so, do they publish outcomes for prospective students to read?

Know that you don’t necessarily need to attend the most prestigious, selective or expensive college in order to have a great experience and a great future. Ask about what recent graduates are doing, including their employment and acceptance rates in graduate and professional programs. See if there are local alums of the college near where you live that you might get in touch with to hear about their experience.

Social Fit

Second, did the cultural and social atmosphere of the school fit you?  Do you feel you could be happy on the campus given its location, its range of activities, and the sort of students who attend there? What about the size of the school, and its distance from where you live?  All of this and more can be weighed as an additional aspect of fit.

Monetary Fit

Third, which of the schools offers the best monetary value in terms of the balance between total cost of attendance and offers of aid? In an era when college costs have spiraled beyond any other significant life investment, this is likely to loom large unless your family is quite wealthy. Remember that the cost of college may well haunt you long after graduation in the form of loan payments.  Who is giving you the best deal? Inquire also about the status of financial aid over time. Does the college consistently support continuing students?

One Last Visit

Finally, if you haven’t visited, or if your earlier visit was somewhat brief, make another if possible. This time spend a full day or more and schedule appointments with a professor or two, sit in on a class, hang out in the campus center, and see if it is possible to spend the night with a current student. Plan as broad an experience as possible to help you make your decision.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Finally, consider making a pro and con list about each school in consideration, featuring the above variables as well as others that are important to you.  Talk with your parents, teachers and counselors. Then go with your best judgment. You are less likely to make a bad decision with this degree of consideration, but if you do, you can recover and move on after a semester or a year as a transfer student.

Idyllic Mirror Lake at Ohio State U

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