High school students these days are busy. They play sports, take AP classes, participate in various clubs or community outreach programs. It never ceases to amaze me how much some of our students have on their plate. When every day is chock-full of activities, it may feel impossible to find enough time to dedicate to college hunting. With over 5,000 universities to choose from in the U.S. alone, you may be wondering — Where do I start? What should I look for? Luckily for you these are not uncommon questions! In our experience with college prep here at Curvebreakers, we’ve found five factors we feel are the most important to consider when looking for colleges.
1. Expected Major
This can be a hard enough decision to make in itself. If you haven’t picked a major yet – don’t worry – you are definitely not alone. This category may be lower on your list of priorities, but it’s still worth taking a look at a school’s programs and available majors and minors. See if they offer classes in areas that pique your interest – college is a great place to experiment with different fields and most will not require you to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. On the other hand, if you do know your major then narrowing down schools will be much simpler. Consider colleges that are well known for your major or have a large number of students who graduate with the degree you hope to receive. Niche is a great resource for finding college rankings based on major and a number of other categories as well.
2. Location (and Housing)
For many this is the easiest part of picking a university. Narrowing your search down to your hometown makes perfect sense if you plan to live at home (a great option for those looking to save money). Whether you want to stay close to home or adventure out into parts unknown, it’s important to keep location in mind in more ways than you might think. You may prefer a bustling city to a more rural atmosphere or want to stay close to the mountains or the ocean depending on your hobbies. Thinking about the best location for your major can also help narrow your search. For example, if you intend to major in engineering, are there any areas in which engineering jobs are concentrated? It’s important to think about whether or not you plan on interning during your college career — you’ll want to ensure plenty of internship opportunities for yourself within range of your school. Regardless of whether or not you select a school close to home, keep your housing options in mind. Some universities require all incoming freshmen to live on campus. Pay attention to dorm options and costs as well as the availability of off-campus housing in the area.
3. Educational Fit
By now you should have an idea of what kind of learning environment is the most effective for you. If you prefer one-on-one, you’ll want to select a school with smaller class sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio that will allow for professors to give each student individualized attention and help. If you’re a hands-on learner, you should look for colleges with state of the art labs, technology, or other resources in your field. Some schools offer more flexible curriculums that allow their students to sample a range of courses, while others are more rigid and offer little deviation from the courses outlined for your major. Take the time to research some of the professors as well. Highly educated teachers with real-world expertise in their area of study make for more interesting classes and a better educational experience overall.
4. Social Fit
College can be the perfect environment for developing your social skills and many of the friends you make while you’re there will be in your life for years to come. However, whether or not a school has a well-developed social scene can be important for more than just making friends. Sororities and Fraternities, while great vehicles for meeting new people, also participate in many organized projects within their community. A college with a greater number of clubs will increase the likelihood of finding one that you enjoy. Joining a club or organization on campus can be a great way to supplement your major with some hands-on experience. For example, writing for a school’s newspaper would improve the resume of a journalism student, while being a part of the speech and debate team would align well with communication and political science majors. If athletics are important to you, focusing on universities with a reputable sports team and spirited fan base can help narrow down your search.
5. Graduation and Career Prospects
At the end of the day, college is merely a stepping stone on the way to a brighter future. Consider each school’s graduation rate. If only a small portion of students are completing the full program, there’s bound to be good reason. Any reputable university’s website should provide their graduation rate, the percentage of students who are working in their field of study and those who had a job within six months of graduation. You can also find this information on Niche and The Princeton Review. College is expensive and you should come out of it feeling like it was worth your while. If you’ve chosen a more competitive career path, you may want to prioritize colleges with an abundance of career and internship resources for their students.
Even if you think you know what school you want to apply to, it’s important to have other options (even lifelong Harvard admirer Rory Gilmore ended up changing her mind). Take a moment to prioritize this list of factors from what you feel is the most important to the least. Maybe social life will make or break your college experience more than location or maybe you’re determined to receive an athletic scholarship to one of the top five schools for football. If you’ve already been accepted to several schools, it’s also helpful to consider these factors when making your final decision. If you’re just beginning to think about which schools you want to apply to, prioritizing any one of these elements can help narrow your search to the colleges you want to visit (check out our post on how to make the most of your college tours). The more thought you put into selecting your college, the more you’ll enjoy the next four years.
By: Emily Sahli, Staff Writer, Curvebreakers