It’s that time of year: time to get serious about the college application process. And, as you’ll soon find out, picking colleges can be as complex and daunting as taking standardized tests and writing application essays. How do you know which schools are good? How do you know where you’ll fit in? What should matter? How do you pick the best college — for you?
The selection process can be complicated, but we’re here to shed some light on it. Here are the categories you need to consider as you figure out where you should apply.
A ranking is a list of colleges, typically in numerical order, that tells you which schools are considered the best and which don’t quite measure up. Once you start the college selection process, you’ll likely become very familiar with different ranking lists. Rankings are a great starting point because they will give you an idea of public opinion surrounding a school. That is, which schools are considered great and which are not. However, only use them as a starting point. Figure out where you’d like your school to fall within the rankings and then move on to more personalized, important characteristics.
How well do you deal with sweltering summers? How about freezing winters with literally tons of snow? Do you want to be in a big city? Do you need to be near your parents? All of these are very important considerations to keep in mind as you decide where to go. A school’s location has a pretty big impact on how happy you will be during school — and your happiness will have a pretty big impact on how well you perform academically. Choose wisely.
Available concentrations and departments
Start thinking about the general direction in which you want your academic career to go, and then check out each school you’re thinking about. Make sure they’ve got the departments and, if a department is not available, the concentrations in your fields of interest. The last thing you want is to get to your dream school only to find out you have to change your whole academic plan!
Your potential major
If you already know exactly what you want to major in, then double-check each institution you’re interested in to ensure they’ve got what you need. Better still, check out rankings and college guides for your specific major — you can often find lists of which colleges have which majors, and who has the best programs. Use these lists to eliminate the schools that don’t have what you’re looking for.
Costs and financial aid
With the hefty price tag on college, costs and financial requirements should be high on your list of considerations. State and public schools are often much more inexpensive than private schools, while many private institutions have “need-blind” policies (which means that they’ll accept you regardless of your ability to pay and will then put together a comprehensive financial aid package to help you meet the cost). Other schools may not have the lower costs of a public university, or the ability to help you with considerable financial aid. Determine where you feel comfortable in terms of college cost and then make sure your potential colleges fit into your comfort zone.
The quality of the instruction at a college is just as important to your academic performance as the availability of majors or the school’s location. The better the professor, the better you will understand the material. Do some research on sites like www.ratemyprofessor.com to find out which profs rock and which bottom out. Also, take a look at how many members of the faculty are actual professors and which ones are graduate students. If graduate students are doing most of the teaching, that’s a big red flag.
Your overall prospects after college
Sure, going to college is great, but getting a job after you graduate is even better. Think about where you’d like to work and what you’d like to do, and make sure that the schools you’re considering can help you in that path. If you’re visiting the schools, take some time to stop by the career services offices and ask what kinds of resources they have. A school that can’t help its graduates get good jobs is a school you should cross off your list.
Remember, it’s not just about a pretty campus, or about where your parents would like you to go (although both of those are still important considerations). It’s also important to think comprehensively about the school, its offerings, its location and how well it complements what you’re trying to achieve academically and professionally. Keep the points above in mind, and you’ll be sure to fill your list with schools that fit like a glove!