How to Choose a College
Choosing a college can be hard, and may even seem downright impossible with so many options out there. There’s such a big variety of colleges and universities that it can be overwhelming to come to a decision. You might not even know what you want out of a college, but that’s okay. We are here to offer a few tips on how to choose a college.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the key factors you should be considering when determining which school is best for you. Figuring out where you want to spend the next chapter of your life is tough, but it’s easier when you know your priorities.
How to Choose a College: Key Factors to Consider
Academics should be your top priority when figuring out where to attend school. It’s essential that you pick a college that meets your expectations for program offerings, approach to education, and quality of academics. After all, your main reason for going to college is to further your education.
Different types of colleges and universities vary when it comes to the academic focus they provide. You’ve got private liberal arts schools that encourage students to broaden their academic horizons by studying a wide range of subjects. These schools are also known for their small class sizes and personalized academic instruction. Liberal arts colleges are great if you’re looking for a well-rounded education, but they generally have fewer research opportunities and degree offerings than large, public universities.
There’s also public research universities like the Big 10 schools and the Public Ivies. These types of schools offer top-notch research opportunities and a wide range of degree offerings. Large state schools are an attractive option for students who want a large field of programs to choose from. For instance, Texas A&M University is divided into nearly 20 colleges featuring programs such as agriculture, architecture, business, dentistry, and engineering. However, you can expect larger class sizes and less individualized teaching methods at big state schools.
After academics, overall cost is the next biggest factor that comes into play when deciding on a school. When making your list of potential colleges, nothing should be off the table in the beginning. Don’t shy away from considering certain schools just because their tuition rate seems out of your range. Scholarships and need-based financial aid can make it possible to pay for college and turn your dream school into a reality.
With that being said, there are a few things you should keep in mind when considering cost. If you choose to attend a public university instead of a private one, you’ll benefit from lower tuition rates. According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of attendance is estimated to be $17,797 at public schools and $36,138 at private nonprofit schools. Moreover, you’ll pay even lower tuition rates if you attend a public school in your home state rather than out-of-state.
But remember that while private schools may appear expensive, sometimes financial aid packages can make them just as (if not more) affordable than public schools. Due to their large endowments, private schools have the capability to award larger grants and scholarships than public schools. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, private institutions extended a record average 48% tuition discount to undergraduates for the 2019-20 school year.
How big of a school do you want to attend? This is an important question to ask yourself when figuring out where you’ll go to college. As you probably know, colleges and universities come in all sizes. There’s liberal arts schools with student populations under 1,000, and big state schools that enroll over 30,000 students. And of course, there’s a whole lot of mid-range schools that fall in between.
Small schools and big schools each have their advantages and drawbacks. If you’re looking for small class sizes, personalized instruction, and a closely-knit campus culture, then a smaller university might be a good fit. But if you want to be part of a lively campus culture, cheer for nationally recognized sports teams, and pick from a wide selection of degree offerings, then a big school is probably the way to go. Keep in mind that school size is closely related to whether the school is public or private. Private schools are usually on the smaller side, while public schools tend to be much larger.
Now it’s time to consider what you’re passionate about outside of academics, and which schools best match those interests. Maybe you want a school with a big commitment to Greek life and renowned athletic teams, or perhaps you’re looking for a college with a vibrant art community. If you enjoy volunteer work, you might want to consider a school that emphasizes community activism. Your school’s campus culture has the potential to shape your college experience, so it’s important to pick a school that aligns with your preferences.
Campus environment oftentimes goes hand in hand with school size. As we’ve mentioned, large schools are likely to have bustling campus environments with plenty of clubs and organizations, sports events, and social activities. On the other hand, large schools can’t match the intimate campus culture found at smaller schools. If you like the idea of spotting familiar faces in the dining hall or on your way to class, then a small school might be right for you.
Although size is a big contributor, you can’t assume everything about a school’s campus culture based solely on its student population. It’s entirely possible to stay busy with student clubs and social activities at small schools, and there’s certainly potential to develop close-knit friend groups at large schools. Ultimately, the best way to get a feel for a school’s culture is to take a campus tour and ask questions along the way.
While geographic location shouldn’t make or break your decision, it’s certainly a key factor to consider. You should think about whether you want to live in a rural area, a big city, or somewhere in between. Rurally located schools like Appalachian State University are great for students who enjoy outdoor activities. Plus, schools in small college towns tend to have a more intimate sense of community. Meanwhile, schools such as the University of Maryland are perfect for students eager to explore their urban surroundings and take advantage of various social and cultural events. Not to mention, colleges and universities located in cities provide students with access to internships with big-name companies.
You should also consider how far from home you’re willing to venture. By choosing to stay close to home, you can benefit from more affordable in-state tuition, frequently visit family, and save on travel costs. On the other hand, attending school out-of-state can introduce you to a brand new environment, help you gain independence, and encourage you to make new friends.
Finally we have academic perks, which include study abroad programs, internship opportunities, career services, undergraduate research, and honors programs. Think of these perks as the icing on the cake when it comes to choosing a college. They’re great to have, but not absolutely necessary. Of course, some of these may take a higher priority in your book depending on what you want.
For instance, studying abroad is an opportunity that a lot of students don’t want to miss. Getting the chance to take classes in another country and experience a foreign culture is an unforgettable experience. Additionally, a quality career services center can help you find internships, which in turn can set you up for post-graduate employment. And let’s not forget about undergraduate research, which many students find to be a rewarding academic experience.
As you can see, there’s a lot of important factors to consider when you’re choosing a college. In a perfect world, you’d find a school that checks off every single box. That can definitely happen, but it’s not always the case. Ultimately, your goal should be to obtain the best possible education for the lowest price. To make that happen, you may have to do a bit of compromising in the areas that we’ve discussed. But if you determine your priorities and stick to them, you’re sure to find a college that’s right for you.