8 Steps For Choosing The Right College

The process of going to college starts well before you find yourself inundated with acceptance letters. You’ll take practice SAT tests in your sophomore year of high school, study for the real ACT and SAT exams in your junior year and hopefully take a few AP courses in your junior and senior years. You’ll have to navigate your way around the FAFSA and learn about the ins and outs of student loans.

Now add choosing a college on top of all that and it’s easy to see how the whole business can be overwhelming for many students. Don’t let it get to you – use these eight tips to help you out as you work towards finding the right college.

1. What Do You Want to Get out of College?

Everyone has different goals in life, and that’s totally okay! Now is the time to sit down and seriously think about what you want to do with your life in the next three or four years. What do you want to study? Do you want to land a great job as soon as you graduate from college, or do you want to continue on to do a graduate degree? If you’re finding it hard to decide what you want to do, ask your parents, your school counselor or another trusted adult for advice. Their life experiences can help you look at your own circumstances and goals in a reasonable way.

Ultimately, you’ll get out of college what you put into it. If you’re ready to work hard towards a goal on your own terms, you’ll be fine. Don’t let other people’s expectations influence your decisions. If you really want to go to community college first and move on to a four-year school later, you’ll be miserable if you try and make it work at a private Ivy League university.

2. Where Would You Feel Comfortable?

Do you love your hometown and want to stay there to study or do you want to hop across the country? Think seriously about where you’d be happiest and what sort of opportunities are available there. This is where visiting schools can be immensely helpful – we’ll get to that in a bit.

3. Where in the World Do You Want to Be?

The best part about applying to colleges is that the world is pretty much your oyster. If you live in Arkansas and want to study in Florida, you can absolutely do it. Think you’ve got the grades and the experience to study abroad for a year or more? You can do that too. Take some time to think about your ultimate career goals and where they could take you, then try to find educational opportunities nearby.

Once you’ve made your decisions about your goals, where you want to be and what you want to do, you’ll be ready to take action and see things for yourself. Here are some suggestions on what to do next:

4. Visiting Schools

Visiting colleges and universities that interest you is absolutely essential for choosing the right school. Most institutions will offer open days or tours during the fall and spring semesters that are led by current students. You’ll get an insider’s view of how the college works, how strong the programs and extracurricular activities are and how happy the student body is. Don’t be afraid to ask questions while on the tours, as this will be the best way to find out whether a particular school will be a good choice for you.

If you’re interested in a school that’s far away, don’t be afraid to go visit. Ask a parent or guardian if they can drive you, or arrange to take a plane or train to get out there. Applying to a faraway school without visiting is a sure-fire way to be disappointed later on.

5. Making a Shortlist

Making a shortlist of the schools to which you want to apply can be helpful if you have several options to consider.

6. Listing the pros and cons of each college

Listing the advantages and disadvantages of each school will help you narrow down your choices when it’s time to start filing those applications. Just remember that one disadvantage shouldn’t totally disqualify a specific school – it’s when the negatives add up that you should be concerned. If there’s a school with five or more “cons”, cross it off your list.

7. Contacting Departments

Even if you’re not entirely sure about what you want to study in college, contacting different academic departments in each college can be a good idea. Try contacting departments with the same concentration in different colleges to see how they differ and what you like about them. Some may have opportunities for undergraduate research while others may offer generous scholarships. Taking the time to dig deeper and reach out to faculty in specific departments can help you decide if a school is right for you.

8. Narrowing Down Your Choices

Once you’ve taken the tours, talked to the professors and made your lists, it’s time to narrow down your application choices. It can be a hard process, but it will be worth it. Think about where you felt the most comfortable, what schools offered the best opportunities and what you think you want to study. Once you’ve pared down your choices to five or six schools, you’ll be ready to make the jump to applying for a place at these colleges or universities. Good luck!