Picking the college that’s right for you is a tough process that is specific to each of us. You may not even know where to start when you begin looking for schools to apply to. There are an infinite number of locations, programs, campus cultures, etc.
Especially right now, it can be particularly difficult as we are not able to visit campuses and see what life at each school is like. If you are stuck on all of these options, use these methods to narrow down your choices.
List Your Priorities. The good news is that you have options. Make a list of the attributes that are most important for your college vision to help you eliminate some of those options. For example, to some students, the campus activities culture or ability to make connections with other students might be more important than their specific choice of major. Or, if your choice of major is a deal breaker, you can eliminate schools by seeing which ones don’t offer the courses you want to take.
Do Your Research. Sometimes, narrowing your college choices just comes down to doing a deep-dive into the websites of the colleges on your list. College and university websites always include details on the courses they offer, descriptions of majors, details on their general requirements for graduation, and campus activities and culture. Some schools have more graduation requirements than others or don’t have the type of community we might be looking for and those differences can be deal breakers.
Make Sure to Visit Campus. Many times, a college can seem like the perfect place for you. Then, when you visit campus and experience the people and atmosphere, you feel the complete opposite way. Most colleges offer admitted or prospective student days where you can visit the campus, talk to current students and hear from the faculty and administrators. If the colleges you are considering don’t offer this, or you are just too far away to make the trip, you can always contact the college directly with your questions. Some colleges even offer virtual tours of their campus on their website. Fairleigh Dickinson University, for example, offers a way to chat with current students online!
Pro-tip: College open houses are meant to give you a positive picture of the school because they are competing for your interest with other colleges. Always take the campus visits and website content with a grain of salt and if possible, search for reviews and ratings on sites like College Confidential or GradReports.com.
Chatting with current students or doing research on sites like College Confidential can also be particularly helpful in finding information on campus diversity and culture. Many schools also publish diversity statistics on their websites. Diversity is important in not only having as many perspectives as possible present on campus but also in giving students a sense of belonging at their school.
Consider Cost & Financial Aid. Costs and Financial Aid are a huge part of any college decision. For example, it can be less expensive to stay in state for college if you choose to attend a public university. But, when we factor in potential financial aid and merit scholarships, everyone’s situation is different. Make sure to compare and contrast the costs of each school you are considering with the benefits of going there in order to understand how to have the best experience for the best price for you and your family.
Think About Location. Location is another preference that is very specific to each of us and can reap different benefits depending on what you want for your future. For example, going to school in a big city could show you more opportunities for work experience and professional development, but might be more costly for room & board and not have the most robust campus involvement. On the other hand, a more rural environment might offer a more close-knit campus community and less distractions. A suburban environment would be the most balanced between the two. You can still have access to a city for internships and work experience but also have a rich campus life to come back to.
Remember Your End Goals. While your college search will be lengthy and strenuous, you have to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Think about where you want to be after four years of college. What kind of job do you want? Do you want to go to graduate school? Where do you want to be? These questions will help guide you through further narrowing your college choices and ultimately making the right decision for yourself.
Finally, listen to this podcast to get tips from NPR on how to navigate the college process during COVID-19.