School is back in session and for high school juniors and seniors, that means college applications. Those with their sights on attending a college or university have applications and deadlines on their minds almost constantly (or, at least, their parents do).
In fact, students typically start thinking about college as early as sophomore year and find themselves submitting between four and twelve college applications.
Thinking of your future school and career path is exciting, but it can also be a busy and overwhelming time as you navigate the college application process.
There are thousands of colleges and universities to choose from, so how do you find and choose the right college for you? How do you ensure that you feel at home in your new, home-away-from-home?
While by no means an exhaustive list, this article will explore 7 key factors to consider as you evaluate prospective colleges and universities. This list can help you feel confident as you apply and choose the right college for you as an incoming student.
#1: Geographic Location
Location is one of the most important factors students look at when choosing a college. Staying in your home state, attending a public school, or qualifying for in-state tuition elsewhere can mean saving thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars. Staying in-state also means you are closer to home and can save money on travel costs, as well.
However, some students prefer to travel farther to attend college, in hopes of experiencing a new place. This is okay, too! Think about what you want and expect from your future institution.
As a prospective student, you should consider the area and city or town you want to live in. Do you want to live in a small town, a fast-paced metropolitan area, or someplace in between?
On one hand, small college towns provide an intimate and close-knit community that allows you to build strong relationships with your peers and professors. Schools in large cities, however, grant you access to more social, cultural, and business opportunities. As you make your list of schools to apply to, ask yourself what kind of environment you would succeed and thrive in, personally and professionally.
#2: Academic Major Offerings
Whether or not you know what degree or career path you want to pursue, it’s important to make sure that each school you are considering offers the major you want or are interested in. For example, if you know you want to study education and become a teacher, you may consider a school that is leading the charge in the education space. If you desire to become a nurse, you may choose a healthcare-focused institution. It would not do you any good to apply to schools that do not have programs of interest.
It’s also very common for students to be undecided about their academic path. In this case, choosing a college that offers a wide variety of majors may be your best option.
#3: Academic Quality, Rigor, and Instruction
No matter how elaborate a college’s marketing materials are, no school can offer the best program in every field of study. Thus, it’s important to look at the overall academic quality, reputation, and accreditation on websites like BestColleges’ rankings when finding and choosing a college. You can also look at the career and research achievements of the faculty to see if they’ve won awards or obtained recognition for any noteworthy publications or discoveries.
Additionally, looking at the instruction format can be extremely helpful when choosing a college.
According to U.S. News, 23 percent of undergraduates are working 20 or more hours each week. Thus, online or hybrid classes may be extremely helpful for students, especially if you are looking to work frequently during college.
#4: School Size
Another important factor to consider when finding the right college is the school size. Colleges and universities can range from small liberal arts colleges with fewer than 1,000 students to state universities that bring over 50,000 new students each year.
Keep in mind that both large and small colleges have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, small colleges may not offer as many programs as larger universities, but they often provide more specialized degrees and hands-on learning opportunities. Small colleges also pride themselves on smaller class sizes which provide more individual access and support from your professors and academic advisors.
However, if you are a student with clear interests and goals, you might thrive more at a larger university where there is more diversity in your coursework, activities, and resources.
#5: Campus Environment and Extracurriculars
Personal and professional growth occurs as much outside the classroom as inside. You may meet lifelong friends in college and thus it’s important to consider the campus environment as you choose the college that is right for you.
Do you want a college with a strong Greek life or a vibrant art scene? What about a school that values sports and intramurals? Or, are academic achievements and a recognized research university more important? Do you wish to attend a school that has a diverse student body, that supports multicultural affairs, and where all students can get involved? Think about what you are looking to achieve, what you would like to be involved with, and how those interests align with each prospective school.
#6: Cost, Financial Aid, and Scholarship Opportunities
Now that you’ve considered many non-financial factors, you also want to look at the cost of tuition and other fees for the colleges you are interested in.
Apart from tuition, it’s also important for students and parents to factor in potential costs for housing, books, transportation, school supplies, and other student fees associated with attendance. While these costs can feel insurmountable, there are many ways to make college possible.
Look at financial aid packages and scholarship opportunities offered at your prospective schools. And of course, take advantage of Federal Student Aid offered by the US Government (frequently known as FAFSA). You may also make an appointment and speak with an academic advisor about loans, grants, scholarships, and even work-study opportunities offered by the school. Meetings like these will help as you choose the right college. Knowing what kind of financial support is available can be a big help in graduating from college with little or no debt.
#7: Student Support Services
At the end of the day, the right college or university will be there to support you throughout your educational journey. This means, if at any point along the way you need help, they will have the resources, tools, or staff to assist you. For example, the best universities out there will offer:
- Career support services
- Academic advising and tutoring
- Counseling services
- Financial aid guidance
- Workshops and seminars
- Cultural enrichment activities
Choosing the Right College for You
As you can see, finding and choosing the right college for you is not an overnight decision. It is a decision you should make after thoughtful consideration and planning. Ask for support from your parents, guidance counselors, college advisors, or current students from your list of prospective schools.
Remember, you don’t have to make this monumental decision alone. The University of Bridgeport would love to assist you in this exciting process. We can help you determine if UB is the right place for you. Reach out to us today to get started!