For many students, choosing a college can be an overwhelming process. I’m writing to provide you with some guidelines and often overlooked qualities which you should consider when choosing what college to attend.
Your first consideration should be what you wish to study. Certain colleges are well-known for different programs, for example, someone who wants to major in English wouldn’t choose MIT as their top choice as its primary focus is on math and the sciences. Some departments also feature professors or faculty who are famous in their specialty. A student wishing to pursue foreign service might be interested in Georegetown, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright occasionally teaches there.
If you don’t know what you want to study, consider liberal arts colleges. They provide a diverse curriculum focusing on may different topics, to expose students to a variety of fields and hopefully find some which they are passionate about.
Conversely, if you’re certain of what you want to study, some colleges provide combined bachelors and graduate degree programs, an interesting option for those who are sure they want to enter a certain field.
Next, consider the student makeup. Find out about campus culture – even read the campus newspaper if you get a chance. Do students share your interests and passions? Can you find campus groups to get involved in? Try talking to students who attend the schools you’re considering. Learn about campus traditions. Your classmates will determine a large part of how enjoyable the next four years will be, so research them thoroughly.
Next, decide what type of atmosphere you want to be in. A large public college will have a very different environment than a small liberal arts school, in terms of class size, advising, and variety of courses. There are pros and cons to each, but determine which qualities are most important to you and then pick a school that will meet those needs.
Finally, there are the limiting factors: competitiveness and cost. Certain schools are far more competitive than others, and some nearly impossible to get into. Most colleges post the average grades and test scores of the students they admit on their webpages – from these you can get an idea of how you measure up to other applicants.
Cost is another consideration. Who will be financing your education? What is your budget? Some schools offer financial aid and scholarships based on talent, others on need. Contacting the financial aid offices at the schools you want to attend will give you a better idea of the costs you will incur and what options they offer for financing your education.