The college and university search process can be overwhelming. Choosing a school is a big and important decision. However, it doesn’t have to be a source of stress and anxiety. The solution? Have an idea of what you are looking for. The key to finding the perfect college or university is prioritizing possibilities based on your needs and conducting research. Here’s some help:
1. Start by identifying your priorities.
2. Research a broad range of schools.
3. Combine 1 and 2. Filter through your broad list of schools and only keep those that meet your needs.
4. Once you have a select few, go back to researching. College visits are a great way to help with the decision-making process. You can also learn a great deal from talking with graduates. After all, you can only learn so much about a school from the Internet.
Consider these factors while conducting your search:
Size of the Student Body. Small colleges tend to offer more opportunities for individual attention, while large universities have an increased number of programs, clubs and activities.
Location. Geography is a huge factor. Do you want to stay close to home or experience new surroundings? Do you enjoy an urban setting or prefer the small town feel?
Cost. Private schools are generally more expensive than public schools, but have unique benefits of their own. Out-of-state schools are also more costly. However, college can be the perfect time to expand your horizons.
Academic Programs. If you have an idea of what you want to study, you can refine your search by looking for schools that excel in that area. If you are uncertain of what academic area you want to focus on, maybe a school with a wide range of majors and minors would suit you best.
Student-to-Faculty Ratio. Is personal help and feedback important to you? Large universities sometimes have lecture courses that can include hundreds of your “closest friends.” If you don’t need personal attention to excel, that may not be a problem for you.
Extracurricular Activities. Look for student organizations, such as clubs, Greek life, athletic programs, student senate, campus newspapers, or any other program, that might be of interest to you. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way to get involved and meet new people. After all, college life is about much more than classes and exams.
Diversity. In today’s global and diverse economy, being able to understand and relate to people from different backgrounds is essential. College can be a great time to learn more about the world.
Retention and Graduation Rates. Strong retention and graduation rates indicate that effective academic, social and financial support systems are in place. By looking at the percentage of students who return after the first year or the percentage of students who graduate, you can learn a great deal about the satisfaction of previous students.
Employment After Graduation. Each college will have statistics showing the number of graduates who get jobs within a specific period after leaving, which is typically six months. Ask to see these employment statistics. Comparing the numbers can give you an idea of each school's success rate. Although college can be some of the best years of your life, the ultimate goal is preparing for employment after you attain your degree.
Campus Housing. Whether you are living on or off campus, you will want to consider the housing options before making a decision. Many colleges and universities have dormitories, scholarship halls, fraternities and sororities, and other options. Some schools do not allow vehicles for freshmen and require first-year students to live on campus. If you plan to live off campus, are apartments available and reasonably priced? Remember to explore the possibilities and get a feel for what life would be like at each school.