Finding the right college can be incredibly overwhelming. There are hundreds to choose from and each one is doing their best to make you choose them. It may seem like it would be easier to just have someone tell you where to go and what to do, but the result would likely not be one that you enjoy. It’s like having a vegetarian choose which restaurant to go to when all you want is a T-bone steak.
Although there is no magic formula for choosing the right school, there are a few steps you can take to make things easier.
1. Eliminate schools you KNOW will not work
A great place to start is by eliminating some of the choices you know will not be right by using what you know you want to cross them off your list.
For example, if you want to study genetics, eliminate schools that do not have a genetics program. If you know that you want to stay close to home, eliminate schools that are farther away than you are willing to travel. Automatically your list just went from overwhelming to manageable.
This type of elimination can be done through a college search tool like College Raptor that allows you to search for schools with particular majors or within a certain proximity to home.
If your list is still too overwhelming, eliminate schools with other information you know will affect your decision, like religious affiliation or Greek life.
2. Look into each school’s campus life
Now that you have a shorter list, it is time to look more in depth at the schools on your list. The most basic way to do this is by looking at each school’s website. A great place to start is by looking at their campus life or student life tab. There, you will often find information on student organizations or clubs, traditions that help unite the college community, or even blogs/vlogs from current students themselves.
All of these things are going to become part of your life on campus, so try to imagine yourself participating in on-campus activities. Looking through a college website can help you further eliminate schools that wouldn’t be the right fit for you as you continue to narrow your search.
Keep in mind that the school’s website is a marketing tool, though. So don’t necessarily take everything shown on there at face value. Be prepared to do your own research and verify what you find.
3. Get a “feel” for the schools on your short list
Much like buying a pair of shoes without trying them on can lead to blisters, choosing a school without visiting the campus can cause pain later down the road.
During a college visit you will be able to get up close and personal with your prospective schools in a way unlike any other. You can take tours, meet with professors, ask questions, and get personalized advice from admissions counselors. During some visits, you may get the chance to stay overnight in a dorm room or attend meetings of student organizations you are interested in joining.
How NOT to eliminate schools from your list
You’ll notice that through all of these tips, we haven’t talked about a few fairly important factors: The price, size, or setting of campus of schools. But eliminating a school too early based on these factors can cause you to miss out on some amazing opportunities.
With sticker prices in the tens of thousands, it is understandable that the cost of school is a main factor in the decision-making process of most students. But eliminating a school simply based on their published cost may mean selling yourself short. Through scholarships, grants and other financial aid options the sticker price of college is cut down to a much more manageable sum. Figuring out just how much of a difference financial aid can make is simple with a net price calculator like College Raptor’s, which shows you the sticker price of a school along with an estimate of the scholarships you would receive.
As with the price of college, very often students eliminate a large number of schools based on assumptions about what they want (the size or the setting of the campus) first, and then on the factors that will actually affect their experience directly.
By eliminating a small school because of the common belief that larger schools offer more opportunities after graduation, students often miss out on colleges that they may have loved and end up transferring later in college.
It is better to keep an open mind with regard to these factors and wait until you’ve visited a couple of schools to decide which type of school will be a better fit for you.