Speaking from perhaps, more experience than I’d like to have with choosing colleges let me say, that this is one of the most important choices you will ever make. Sorry, to add to the pressure, but there it is. Choosing the right college can be the first step in making your life what you want it to be. Everything from location, class size, student teacher relationships, legal ones, to nightlife, can go into your college decision. For the most part, your enjoyment of your college experience is going to depend on the things you might overlook, like quality of dorm life, distance to classes, who you live with, and what kind of food is available. I don’t mean to discount what your parents and other various adults in your life think are most important, such as name recognition, rankings, price, but they won’t have to live there. Maybe you won’t either if you are intending on staying close to home. But, if you are planning on being far from home, then the comfort of your college life is huge. Trust me, it’s very difficult to do well if you can never sleep because of a ridiculous roommate who comes in with random people who steal your stuff at all hours. And if you don’t want to gain that freshman fifteen, don’t go to a school in a place like I did where the only food choices were fast food or all you can eat Chinese.
You are also going to need to decide if you want to stick with the familiar or go for a whole new experience. For myself, who attended a snobby prep school my whole life, my first choice of college was one where I could be anonomys. I wanted, and did, however briefly, go to a giant university where I was a social security number, where the class sizes were in the hundreds, and the teachers didn’t care about me in the least. After a semester of having to park thirty minutes, if I could get a space, away from my classes and being just part of the mob, I left for a small liberal arts college and loved it. Small schools mean small class sizes and teachers that are willing to give individual attention to their students. This is especially helpful when it comes time for recomends for grad school, and the professors actually know who you are. It’s also good to make sure that you go to a school in an area that has plenty of activities that interest you; if you’re into outdoor activities, a school in a big city might not be the best place for you. Because, even amidst all the studying, parting, and what not, you will eventually get tired of the college scene and need something of your own, or you’ll burn out.
Another big consideration is, of course, going to be your course of study, your major. I was lucky in that I always had a specific interest and I was always able to move towards a career in my chosen field. Many kids however, get to college with very little clue as to what in the hell they’re doing there. If you’re one of those, do not panic, get those core courses out of the way, and if by then you don’t know what you’re doing, panic. But, in the beginning, it’s alright to be unsure, just make certain to go to a school with a variety of programs, even if you don’t , many schools are now letting the student come up with their own course of study, which allows you to specialze in whatever it is that really interests you; in fact, you could probably even find a school with basket weaving as a major. Not to panic you even furthur, but when looking at an undergrad program, it is also a good idea to know if you want to go to grad school. You’ll need to know if your specific field has a cooresponding Grad program at the school, or if you’re going to have to go off somewhere else, perhaps the school has an affiliation with another school. If you want to study abroad, other school affiliations can become important, for instance, if your school doesn’t have its own program, then you are going to have to go through another school; not a fun process, again, trust me.
For the most part, deciding on a college is common sense and about knowing your personal preferences. Don’t for instance go to some huge school in a place you don’t really like, just because you’re best friend is going; you’ll make new friends, it’s good for you. Know that if you need a car to survive where the college is, and you’re not comfortable driving, might better stick to the cities as opposed to more rural campuses. Most importantly, make sure you are where you want to be, not where your parents or your advisors expect you to be. If you’re somewhere that makes you miserable, you won’t do well in school. Everything else after that will fall into place.