One of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your lifetime is where to attend college. With so many options to choose from, picking your future alma mater can sometimes feel like an overwhelming process. College is an exciting time of growth and development, and where you spend the next four years will make a lasting impact on your future.
Fortunately, we’ve put together the ultimate cheat sheet on picking a college for you. Ask yourself these ten questions before making this important decision.
What do I want to study?
Most four-year colleges won’t require you to decide on your degree program until the end of your sophomore year. But you should still have a general idea of what you want to study before choosing a college. When talking to college admissions counselors, find out whether the schools you’re considering have the major(s) you want. If you’re undecided, make sure your choice offers a variety of majors you’re interested in exploring.
Where do I want to live?
One big thing to consider when choosing a college is its location. If you love the hustle and bustle of the city, going to school in a rural area may not be in your best interest. If you hate chilly weather, you may want to avoid universities in states known for their cold climate. While college is a time of expanding your horizons and embracing new ideas, it’s important to pick a location that will suit you best and contribute to your long-term success.
What kind of financial aid will I receive?
For many students, financial aid plays a big role in which college they attend. For this reason, it’s important to look at the financial aid packages available to you. Ask your admissions counselor: What percentage of students receives financial aid, and how much on average? What percentage of students graduates with debt, and how much on average? What kinds of scholarships are available to students? What kinds of work-study opportunities are there?
What kinds of housing options are available?
Often, college is the first time students live away from their parents or family. To ensure a successful college transition, it’s important to make the right decision about the housing you’ll move into. Some universities require students to live on campus for at least two years, while others allow students to rent apartments or houses off campus. Additionally, some colleges have co-ed dorms, while others provide only male- and female-specific halls.
Will I have support?
Transitioning from high school to college is an exciting and empowering experience, but it can also be intimidating. Living away from home for the first time can be lonely and isolating, so it’s important to make sure you have a strong support system in place. Before choosing your school, investigate the support systems it provides — whether emotional, spiritual, or academic. Many universities offer peer support programs, spiritual encouragement, or counseling, and most provide academic tutoring. As you prepare to become a college student, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success in every area of life.
What kinds of recreation options are available?
While the primary goal of college is to receive an education, it’s also a great time to make life-long friends and establish strong relationships. One way to do this is through campus activities and recreational opportunities. It’s important to ask: Are there clubs or organizations that relate to my major or field of study? When choosing a college, check out which community-building opportunities are available. If you’re athletic, consider joining an intermural sports team. If you enjoy politics, consider joining the debate team or student government.
Which internship/practical opportunities are available?
Taking on an internship is a great way to develop your professional skills and network with experts in your field. Before choosing a college, see what kinds of internship or practical opportunities are available — they’re a great way to build your résumé with relevant experience. Getting involved in a club or organization that pertains to your major or field of study is also a smart way to improve your chances of landing your dream job post-college.
Do I want a flexible education?
Are you a self-learner? Do you enjoy structured learning environments or classes that adapt to your schedule? If you’re interested in traveling, working, or just taking classes on your own time, you might want to consider an online university. Online programs have to meet the same rigorous academic standards as their residential counterparts for universities to maintain accreditation, so you’ll still get a great education. Many offer courses without set login times, digital books, and the opportunity to study from anywhere in the world. Still want the college campus experience? More and more traditional universities are offering online classes — and many make them available to residential students. You can often get through your program more quickly — and more affordably — by integrating online classes into your schedule.
Am I okay with rules?
Do you have a lot of self-discipline? Or do you wish you did? While all colleges have certain rules and regulations, small, private institutions often have higher standards when it comes to students’ code of conduct. Rules may address curfew, certain moral issues — i.e. alcohol consumption and premarital sex — and other safety-related concerns. Remember to check out a school’s list of rules and regulations before making your decision.
Do I care about class size?
Finally, class size is an important factor when choosing a college. When looking at options, remember to ask: What is the student-to-faculty ratio? What is the average class size for introductory and advanced courses? A smaller class will ultimately allow for greater professor-student interaction which can sometimes make all the difference in your learning experience.
College is a big investment, so take some time and do your homework before deciding where to go. Visit campus, speak to students, ask questions, and experience as much of campus life as you can before making your choice — you’ll be glad you did.