After all the months you’ve spent applying for colleges, your hard work has finally paid off! Because you’ve been fortunate enough to receive numerous acceptances, you’ve got one last challenge to overcome in the application process: choosing a school. The paradox of choice is that the more choices we have, the more overwhelmed we feel by our options—and maybe you’re already feeling this. Because this decision will shape your future in such important ways, you should examine all the different factors that differentiate your options. The following are things students usually find helpful to consider. Ultimately, you should reflect on your own priorities and weigh factors according to what matters most to you.
1) Program Strength
Of course, the primary reason to pursue undergraduate study is to work toward your academic or professional goals. When comparing schools, determine which one will best support these long-term goals. If your end goal is a career in business, investigate the strengths of the business program and research where graduates usually end up. Typical placements of students in your intended major are a good indicator of what you can expect as a prospective graduate of that school. Do use rankings to loosely compare departments, but don’t treat them as the last word. For example, don’t let the difference of a few ranking spots make you forego a school that’s a better overall fit—and remember that rankings don’t reflect culture.
2) Cultural Fit
That leads to the next point—cultural fit. College is a time for personal growth and meeting new people, some of whom will become lifelong friends. So, you want to attend a place you can call home and where you can be happy for 4 years. Campus cultures vary widely, and the best way to get a feel for the culture is by visiting campuses. Ask random people on campus or in dorm halls how they like the school if you want to avoid manufactured recruitment-weekend responses. If attrition rates appear unusually high, inquire with admissions about them; if the reasons that students tend to leave pertain to you, it’s better to know now rather than later. If you already know there are certain social or spiritual groups or organizations you want as part of your college experience (ex. cultural or religious groups, churches, or Greek life), you can narrow your list by considering which are present at various schools. Lastly, don’t forget to consider college size: do you prefer a tight-knit, small student body or a massive, Big Ten type of school?
3) Supplemental Resources
In addition to community resources, also consider which academic and professional resources would most benefit your development. Career centers, department libraries, study abroad opportunities, service programs, programs for specific languages, extracurricular activities, and other such resources may be important to you and enrich your time in college. Find out which schools have the resources you want.
4) Funding Offer
In all the excitement, it’s easy to forget about the logistics—an important one being how you’ll fund college. While funding may not seem as crucial of a consideration now, differences between school funding packages can make a much greater difference later. So, consider what help your prospective schools are offering you (in scholarships, fellowships, grants, work-study, or loans) and measure it against what you and your family can contribute. Though price tag shouldn’t entirely determine your choice, don’t overlook the reality that an affordable offer can help you maximize your academic success. If you’re working all the time to make ends meet, for example, you may compromise the quality of your schoolwork and ability to take advantage of other opportunities.
5) Area Fit
Although you should typically not choose a school based on geographical location, understanding what you’re getting into in terms of campus surroundings can inform your decision. If you’re a diehard city fan, moving to an area surrounded by cornfields could make it harder to enjoy time off campus. Also consider how far you are willing to move away from your family or friends; though some students don’t think twice about leaving home, that transition can be much more difficult—and the consequences more distressing—for others. Finally, gauge your transportation options and consider whether you would find the campus and surrounding area accessible (perhaps you don’t have a driver’s license or dislike public transportation).
College is one of the most influential experiences of your life, and you can help make it the best possible experience by choosing a school that closely fits your needs, goals, and preferences. Give this decision ample thought so you can decide which option is right for you.