This is it! The year you’ve been waiting for, the time when you finally get to plan on leaving home – with your parent’s approval – unlike that time you and your friends thought a spontaneous road trip to Mexico was a good idea.
Maybe you’ve been talking with your best friends or your current flame, and you’re planning on going to college with or near them, but with more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States, how do you possibly begin to narrow down your choices?
What Things Should You Consider?
Aside from the academic aspect of finding a higher learning institution that offers majors and courses that align with your interests, here are some big things to consider when trying to narrow the field:
- Distance from your hometown: Be brutally honest with yourself, how far away from home do you really want to be without your parents or guardians right there to bail you out of tough times or the free use of a washing machine and private bathroom?
- Location: Depending on what type of college program you’re considering; some regions or areas are known for their high-quality colleges and universities. Massachusetts, for example, has MIT, Harvard, and Boston College, whereas California has UC Berkeley and New York has West Point Military Academy, the New York Film Academy, and Juilliard.
- Size: Do you see yourself lounging atop the well-manicured lawns of a small liberal arts campus, where the instructor to student ratio is 1:25? Or, do you see yourself in stadium lecture seating with 150 of your closest classmates, and each of you has to wait in line literally for hours to meet with your professor during their weekly office hours.
- Athletics and Extracurricular Activities: Think you’ve got what it takes to compete at the collegiate level? Whether the NFL or Olympics is your ultimate goal, some of the most prestigious athletic programs in the country can be found on college campuses. Fraternities and Sororities, Marching Band, ROTC, and other intramural club-like activities can help to build friendships that last throughout life while checking the right boxes depending on what you see as your future career.
- Housing Options: How do you feel about sharing a room with someone else, a suite with 2-3 other people, or an entire residence hall or house with several other people? Sharing space can become a big issue if you don’t get along well with others, or have a different idea of what “clean” means than your roommates. Privacy is often lacking in housing options that don’t allow you your very own room.
- Cost: Today, more than ever, a college education leaves most graduates with debt that can take several decades to pay off. How much is your college education going to cost, and how are you going to pay for it? Regardless of whether you get a full ride on an athletic scholarship, your parents saved up for your tuition, or you take out a federal student loan, crunching the numbers can make all the difference when the costs on paper become a reality.
Where Can You Seek Further Guidance?
Once you’ve gleaned some answers from those questions, there are a lot of ways to further narrow your choices. Speaking with your teachers, guidance counselors, or family members can help you further brainstorm what exactly you want out of your college education and experience. Additionally, the internet offers a vast array of resources to explore what student life is like at most institutions. If possible, once you’ve narrowed your list to the top 3, visiting the campuses and seeing them for yourself can help to validate or repudiate your choices.