What to consider in a college finder

Knowing what to consider on a campus can help you refine your search for schools

What to consider in a college finder

You’ve looked through viewbook after viewbook, clicked through every college finder, and you still haven’t had the epiphany you imagined your Dream College would conjure. So what exactly is it that you’re looking for in your Perfect School, anyway?

No matter what pretty pics those viewbooks show you, there’s more to your college choice than fabulous landscaping and classes in your intended major. Here’s what to consider when searching for your best college match.

Do you want to attend a college where you share an ethnicity or religion with most of your fellow students? Consider a religiously affiliated college, a historically black or Hispanic-serving college or university. Would you rather meet a diverse range of students? A large public university might be for you. If it’s diversity you’re looking for, remember that it is reflected in more than just ethnicity percents. Look for signs of a diverse community in the variety of clubs and organizations offered, the kinds of activities advertised on campus billboards and what issues the student newspaper covers.

Retention rate
When you’re on a school tour, ask an admissions rep about the college’s retention rate. You’ll be asking how many people finish their degrees at the school compared to how many started the process there. As a follow-up to your question, ask what kind of services the college offers to increase your chances of success. Are there writing labs, tutors, advisement centers? 

Do you want a big or a small college? You might be surprised to learn that just because a school has a lot of students doesn’t mean your chances for small classes or professor interaction are cut short. Even at the largest universities, you’ll be assigned to a small discussion group or lab as a required component of many of your large lecture classes. And how much you interact with your peers, offer your opinion in class or get to know your professors is largely up to you no matter the size of your school.

So instead of searching for a school’s population when using a college finder, consider the variety of majors it offers instead. Are there enough programs that you’ll be able to pursue your interests in both economics and photojournalism? Be sure there are at least two major programs in which you’re interested. That will prevent you from feeling restricted to your initial career choice.

One reason to consider an in-state school is that you’ll avoid the increased tuition that out-of-state students often face. In addition to potential tuition differences, a college finder can help to factor in the traveling costs to and from your Dream College. How often can you afford to come home if you’re going to school on an opposite coast? Talk to your family to decide when you’ll come home, who will pay for your travel and what kind of transportation you’ll use.

Special programs
How does the degree program at the college you’re considering prepare you for a career? Are co-ops or internships required? Is studying abroad encouraged? Will any classes you’ve taken at a community college transfer? Are there honors programs, interesting elective classes or unique hands-on learning options in which you can participate?

When trying to decide the selection criteria for your college, keep an open mind as to what you can and can’t live without. The most important features of a college are the strength of its programs, its contacts in the field and how you feel about it—not the strength of its nearby malls or the landscaping of the quad. Pay attention to your gut reaction, but make sure you’re informed of all a college’s opportunities before making your final decision.

Maximize your visits
When considering college selection criteria, nothing can beat an actual college visit. Use these tips when planning an on-campus tour.

Attend a class
Arrange through the admissions office to sit in one of the classes required for your intended major. Ask to be paired with a student in that class who can show you around and answer any questions.

Ask questions
Faculty and staff will be happy to answer your questions. Use your tour guides to get a student perspective.

Stay overnight
The students who volunteer to host prospective students overnight are often the most active students on campus. Take advantage of their knowledge! Ask them to show you the best dining halls, the recreation center, student lounges and other fun places to go on campus.


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