Today’s blog post is based off Day 2 of my high school’s College Readiness Academy! For more information, please feel free to check out my previous post, “Personal Insight Questions 101.”
Around junior or senior year, you’re going to have to start asking yourself the omnipresent question that 12 years of education has prepared you for: Which colleges should I apply to?
This can obviously be an extremely daunting question for many, especially for those who are first-generation college students or those who have limited resources for college preparation. However, this is a crucial question that all prospective college students should begin asking themselves as soon as the college application process is around the corner.
Through my personal observations, I’ve noticed that what intimidates many high school seniors is the fact that there are a plethora of colleges and universities to choose from, and it may be too overwhelming to dive right into the college application process without doing one’s own research beforehand.
In the year 2005, there were over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, including private 4-year institutions, private 2-year institutions, and public 2-year institutions. With such a large number of postsecondary education options, it can be tough to narrow your college search down to your top 4 picks, or even your top 10.
Here are the top 16 factors you should take into consideration when researching (and eventually selecting) a college:
- Academic Pace
A school’s academic pace is the quality of environment and rate at which the students will be learning. There are 3 main types of academic pace: intense, relaxed, and medium. To deduce which one you would prefer the most, ask yourselves the following questions:
• Are you a student who thrives off adrenaline and would love to work in a highly competitive environment? (intense)
• Do you prefer learning in a slow, easygoing atmosphere? Do you want to be able to “chillax” often, whether it’s on or off campus? (relaxed)
• Are you competitive, yet flourish as a student during your downtime? (medium/no preference)
To better gauge whether a college has an intense, relaxed, or medium academic pace, you can schedule a college campus visit while school is in session (not during the summer or during school breaks) to get a better sense of how the students are learning and thriving on campus.
You can measure college campuses by the following numbers:
• Under 2,000 students = Small
• 2,000 – 15,000 students = Medium
• Over 15,000 students = Large
Some students may feel homier in a small, tight-knit campus, whereas others may blossom on a much larger campus with over 35,000 students. There are pros and cons to each campus size, so ask your friends in small, medium, and large colleges to see what they like about their respective college size.
- Academic Facilities & Programs
Are you an aspiring NBA All-Star? Do you dream of competing in the Olympics one day? Search for colleges that offer NCAA sports! These are highly competitive athletics that could help you earn recognition for larger sports leagues, such as the NFL (National Football League) or MLB (Major League Baseball).
However, if you’re not interested in participating in any competitive sports in college, there are many universities that offer intramural sports, which are not as cutthroat and are perfect if you want to play your favorite sports for leisure purposes only. If this is important to you, research colleges that offer intramural athletics in your sport of choice!
- Community Service Opportunities
At any given university, there are a multitude of programs to choose from, such as outreach programs, community service organizations, and hundreds more (the University of Southern California has over 800 student organizations!). If you’re particularly interested in a particular program, such as Circle K or Student Government, research colleges that have your specific interests and much more!
I highly recommend attending college fairs to see what programs are available for you at different colleges. Ask college students what they’re currently involved in, and assert whether those organizations are perfect for you or not.
Another great way to see what’s in store for you at a college or university is to attend Freshman Orientation after you’ve been accepted and selected your school! Orientation is there for you to network and explore all the opportunities to get involved at your college.
Remember that this particular element in college is important, especially if you want to build your résumé for your future career or if you want to jump straight into the workforce after graduation!
- Teaching Style
Different professors at different universities have different teaching styles (how many more times can I say ‘different’?). This may be challenging to find out and research, especially if this information isn’t given on a college’s website. However, here are a few tidbits of information to keep in mind when building your college list:
• University of California (UC) institutions are largely research-based, so expect to do a ton of research – online and offline – at these schools.
• California State University (CSU) institutions are more hands-on. You may have to do a bit of research at these schools as well, but for the most part, students enrolled at CSUs should expect active participation and learning (such as labs and projects) rather than theory.
• Private institutions, on the other hand, widely vary in teaching style. There are professors that primarily rely on lectures to teach the class, and some even offer college seminars that mainly focus on class discussion. Some schools have a religious affiliation, but don’t require students to be an actual member of the church (like California Lutheran University and Brigham Young University), whereas other religiously-affiliated colleges only admit students who practice the religion.
Several universities have world-renowned faculty members, such as Brené Brown (professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who is very well known for her TED Talks) and J. Scott Armstrong (professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has written numerous books).
If the idea of attending a college with award-winning faculty captivates you, then do your research on famous professors at different universities!
- Housing Options
Knowing where you’re going to live during college is a super crucial factor to keep in mind. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Do you want to attend a college that guarantees housing for first-year students?
• Are you willing to attend a university that only provides housing on a “first come, first serve” basis?
• Is having the option of living in a dorm or an apartment important to you?
• Would you mind waking up a few minutes earlier to ensure you have enough time to walk to class, or would you prefer living closer to your classes so you can sleep in for a few extra minutes?
• Would you feel bothered sharing a bathroom with thirty other people?
All these questions will help you decide whether you prefer living in a dorm or an apartment throughout your time in college.
Be sure to check out the housing options for each college that interests you, paying close attention to the location and cost of the dorms and/or apartments. Typically, dorms cost much less than living in an apartment, so be sure to have this discussion with your parents if you don’t want to live in a dorm during your first year of college.
Do you prefer to attend college in a relatively crime-free city? Is safety a huge concern for you?
This may be a difficult topic to discuss with your parents, yet it is an extremely vital conversation to have. The safety of any college campus is crucial for your comfort and well-being, especially if you’re attending college far away from home.
Luckily, there are many resources to check out if you would like to see the crime rates on a specific college campus, and even in the college’s surrounding area. My personal favorite website to find out this information can be accessed here.
Take notes on the security on each college campus. Ask college students if they think their campus is safe, or if they have witnessed criminal activity during their time there.
The weather at your future college may affect your overall mood while you’re studying there. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Do I prefer living in a consistently sunny city where rain is uncommon?
• Am I willing to experience all four seasons, even if it means enduring extreme heat or frigid temperatures?
• Is my mood drastically affected by foggy, gloomy weather?
If you’re getting tired of seeing the snow, consider a college (such as the University of California, Los Angeles) that is situated in a predominantly sunny area. If you wouldn’t mind foggy weather, try visiting Mills College in Oakland, CA. If you cannot bear to move away from the rain, see if you would like to attend Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.
Once again, a wonderful question to ask college students is what the weather is like at the school they currently attend. This is also a great reason to visit the campus to see if you can tolerate the everyday climate at a specific school.
- Social Life
Being young means having lots of fun, even when you’re studying at university! Having a social life is still a vital component of your academic career as it helps you enjoy your overall college experience.
Consider joining a fraternity or a sorority, which can help you gain long-lasting friendships throughout college. In addition, there are always a wide variety of clubs and organizations on campus that can make you feel more at-home and can even help you network for your future career.
It helps to choose activities that pertain to your career goals in order to meet like-minded peers with similar job interests as you.
Assess each school’s academic, social, and community vibe. One way to do this is by scheduling a campus tour at your top colleges. When doing so, be sure to tour the campus with a tour guide AND without one. This way, you can be informed as to what departments and programs the school offers through the tour guide, as well as visualize yourself as a student on campus.
Throughout your campus tour, continually ask yourself, “Can I imagine myself happily attending this school?” Trust your gut instinct. If you have even the slightest twinge of doubt, maybe that college is not the perfect fit for you. If you can answer that question with an absolute yes, then consider attending that school!
Of course, the total cost of a college will always be one of the most important factors when deciding which school to attend. This is why I advise talking with your high school guidance counselor and your parents about the different ways to pay for college.
There is need-based aid available – like FAFSA, QuestBridge, and the Gates Millennium Scholarship – for low-income families. However, if your family does not fall into this criterion, then you can apply for merit-based scholarships, which judge your eligibility based off your test scores, grade-point average, and/or extracurricular involvement. Examples of merit-based financial aid include the Ronald McDonald House Charities Scholarship, Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship, and Burger King Scholars Program Scholarship.
You can also apply for loans, which is essentially borrowing money for college that has to be repaid with interest. More often than not, this may mean paying off your loans well after you graduate from college. For more information on loans, click here.
Additionally, a great option to receive extra cash to pay for college is to get a work-study job, which is basically a paid, full-time job. Not all jobs on campus, though, are work-study positions, so ask around to see what options are available to you.
- Majors/Minors Offered
What’s the point of attending a college that doesn’t offer your intended major? You are attending college to build your skills and knowledge in a particular field of study, so be sure to research universities that offer a major and/or a minor in whatever you’re interested in pursuing. Whether your passion lies in neurobiology or photography, there are colleges out there for everybody’s career goals.
Also, it is important to distinguish whether your projected major is offered for undergraduates or graduates. If you’re a first-year student, then be sure your major of interest is offered for undergraduates!
- Faculty-Student Relations
For some students, a school’s student-faculty ratio is important to estimate how small or large a typical class is at a specific college. For instance, the student-faculty ratio at Oklahoma University is 17:1, whereas the ratio at Northwestern University is 7:1.
There are also research opportunities available for undergraduate and graduate students. These research programs, ranging from Arts & Humanities to Engineering & Science, entail collaborating closely with faculty, which can help students grow connections with their professors while working with students in a wide range of departments.
On top of that, there are academic advisors at plenty of colleges (such as CSU Channel Islands) who are willing to assist students in reaching their academic and career goals. The hours at which their office is open should be easily accessible on the college’s website, as well as their phone number.
- Geographic Location
A university’s location can be a huge deal-breaker for many students. You can ask yourself the following questions to help you decide which colleges to select:
• Am I willing to live a one-hour drive away from home, or am I okay with living somewhere that requires flying seven hours away?
• Am I easily susceptible to homesickness?
• Would I want to visit home every other weekend, or only during school breaks?
• Do I want to live in an urban city? (This means living in a city with a dense population and a large number of infrastructure, like Los Angeles or New York City.)
• Do I want to live in a suburban city? (This means living in a largely residential area located in the outskirts of a city.)
• Do I want to live in a rural city? (This means living in an area with a low population density and a relatively small number of settlements, such as Hanover, New Hampshire.)
Keep in mind that it is typical for a school’s tuition to be much more expensive for out-of-state students, but this cost may be subsidized through financial aid and scholarships. However, if you and your family are extremely worried about costs, consider attending a college that is in-state rather than out-of-state.
When you start your college search, you may only have the top universities in mind, such as Harvard University or Princeton University, which is normal for many high school students. Regardless of how much a particular college interests you, I do not recommend attending a school exclusively based off its prestige.
Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT discouraging you from attending any top-tier institution. If one of the Ivy League schools is one of your top choices, that’s great! Just be sure that it is a right fit for you. Remember: fit > prestige when searching for your perfect college.
These are all of the 16 things you should consider when choosing which colleges to apply to! I hope this helps you as a general guide throughout your college search! As always, feel free to give any tips on anything I may have missed.
I will write again very soon! ♡