You’ve heard about your dad’s and grandpa’s alma mater from the day you were born. They both credit their wholesome Midwest values, great education, and memories of the greatest football team to ever run the field to their time at the university where you’ve been told you’ll go from the day you first said, “Da Da.” Forget the fact that one of them majored in agriculture and the other in mechanical engineering. Forget the fact that you’ve been raised in L.A. and have lived and breathed the movie world throughout high school with a goal toward becoming a director. Forget the fact that the closest you’ve come to a football field is a date with the second cousin of one of the cheerleaders.
Is their school right for you? Probably not, but you may have to do those urging it the politeness of at least a visit. You may be surprised. You may find that the theater department is alive and well, and that there’s a fine screenwriting department. But, if that’s not the case, enlist their help by making a list of your educational goals and asking them to support you in your quest for schools which are excellent in those fields.
If nobody’s urging you to choose one school or another, your decision can be made on the following factors.
1. Cost. If tuition is out of sight, don’t upset yourself by applying unless you think you’ll be in line for a hefty scholarship. Instead, pick schools that are affordable.
2. Distance. Unless you have some reason for wanting to be far away, picking a school within a day’s drive of home is easier and cheaper for you to make visits and for your family to come visit you.
3. Coursework. Choose a school that has a good reputation in your field of study. It’s even better if it offers both academic and research graduate programs in that major as well because you’ll be guaranteed that there’ll be some top flight instructors.
Other considerations revolve around personal comfort.
1. Size. Do you like the experience of a large lecture or the intimacy of a small one? What’s the student-teacher ratio? Do professors or Teaching Assistants teach the lower level courses?
2. Living quarters. What are the dorms like? If possible, spend a night in one. Do they have rooms with bathrooms or do you share one at the end of the hall? Are the dorms noisy? Are they single sex or co-ed and how do you feel about that? Are students required to live on campus, and if not, what’s the housing situation off campus?
3. Transportation. If you choose to live off campus, how far will it be to classes? If you have a car, what’s the parking situation? Are there city buses to campus; are you close to a train or airport for trips home?
4. Safety. This is especially important for women. What’s the security situation on campus? Are dorms safe at night? Is there an alert system on campus? Are there security people who will walk you home after a late night class? What’s the overall crime rate for the area?
5. Ambiance. This last one requires a visit for sure. Have you always dreamed of living and going to school in New York City? Spend a few days on campus and see what it feels like? Are you from the city and have always wanted to see farm land? Visit universities in the Midwest and spend a weekend biking in the countryside. Are there interesting areas near your school that will be fun to explore? What about entertainment? Is there one re-run theater in town or top flight stage shows that visit on tour? Is the local hangout the DQ or do people dress up and go out for fancy Italian and French meals?
6. What are the students like? This, too, you will only learn by visiting. Ask several why they chose the college and how they like it. Do they seem friendly? Are there clubs and activities on campus that appeal to your interests?
In the end, you will have to weigh many factors. If you do your homework carefully, visit the schools you are considering, and choose one that is affordable, convenient, and excellent in your field with appealing housing and friendly students, you’ll be making a good decision. And if in the end, it turns out to be your grandpa’s school, well then welcome to the family tradition. But if it doesn’t, be excited about the school that is uniquely right for you and look forward to the exciting time ahead of you. And be sure to invite Grandpa to come visit.