At the tender age of 17 or 18, high school students are expected to make a decision that will change their life, or at least the next 4-5 years: where to go to college.
What kind of factors must a student consider when picking the right place for their undergraduate education? Price, proximity to home, degree options, rankings ... the list goes on and on. And it can be a daunting task when you factor in a hefty senior course load, AP tests, sports, clubs, and the thought of taking time off to visit every college campus on their top five list. In my experience, the students who seem the most sure about their college choice when the enrollment deadline rolls around seem to have a few things in common.
First of all, most of them have visited the campus in question. While taking time off from school can be difficult (and expensive, depending on how far away the college is), it’s worth it to get a sense of what the campus, student body, and city that the college is located in are like. A campus tour allows you to meet current students, but at the same time, meet prospective students who are in the same boat and have similar, helpful questions. One student’s dream school on paper might be located in a terrible town, or on the other hand they might find the locale too distracting to get any work done.
Another important factor, if not the most important, is how much the student or his or her family will end up paying to attend said university. Student loans are a necessary evil, and most students can’t escape them these days, but there are alternatives to paying the sticker price for a college education. Some public colleges and universities offer free, or drastically reduced, tuition to their state residents who maintain a minimum GPA, while certain private schools offer hefty financial packages to those that qualify. Meeting with a financial aid counselor at every school you apply to will most likely answer the biggest question for most students: Can I really afford to go here?
Lastly, students should think about all of the programs a school has to offer, not just the one they’re interested in. Most high school seniors don’t know what they want to major in, and sometimes might not figure it out until their second year of college. If a student chooses a school that has the number one program in one field, but is lacking everywhere else, they might find themselves in difficult spot to get out of if they don’t like their major after all.
Share your experience: Do you feel like you picked the right college? Why or why not?