If you’re a junior or younger in high school, you’re still in the phase of narrowing down your options. Here are 6 important aspects of a college or university to consider when making your selections.
1. Class Size
For the best educational experience, a smaller class size is nearly always preferred. A lower student to teacher ratio generally means more one-on-one time with faculty and more personalized attention: always a plus to help you on the road to better learning. Private colleges and universities tend to have a reputation for smaller class size (and a lower overall student population), while large state universities more commonly offer 200+ student lectures, particularly in your first and second year. The average class size at your school will also depend upon your chosen major, as some are less common. Class size may not be the most vital element on your pros and cons list, but you should definitely give it some thought.
So many students can’t wait to take off for college and go far from home. Others prefer staying closer to home. Remaining a few hours’ drive from parents or loved ones can be a great support, but striking out on your own can foster tremendous independence. Which option works for you depends on your specific needs. But don’t just consider proximity to family. Take a look at where the college or university is located geographically and within its city or town. Will you be bored with a small town feel? Some private colleges are nestled away in areas far from major cities which limits activities but can make for a more close-knit, centralized college experience. Would you prefer an urban environment, where your campus is in the heart of it all? You’ll never run out of things to do and places to go, but you may miss out on that more traditional “college” feel. Consider these factors and how they’ll impact your college experience.
3. Program Reputation or Variety of Programs
Do you already know what you want to study? You are probably considering colleges and universities which offer great programs in your chosen field. For focused students ready to tackle a specific major, the quality and reputation of their chosen program will likely weigh heavily in their decision-making process. Look for programs that offer a variety of options, unique opportunities for students, and a supportive alumni system. This can be instrumental to you when you head out into the job field. For those students still undecided on a major or course of study (a situation which is very common), you may want to consider schools with a wide range of majors to choose from. This will give you plenty of options as you narrow down your educational path. You might also want to take a close look at schools that offer special programs to freshmen. Some colleges have first year programs designed to help you discover your passions and choose the right major for you.
4. Living Options
Dorm life is a huge part of the college experience for most students. If visiting a college you’re considering, make sure to take a tour of the residence halls. You’ll be living in one of these for at least one or two of your college years, if not all. Clean and safe dorm environments are important to most students and their families. Perhaps specific living requirements are important to you, like substance-free dorms or single sex dorms. Be sure to investigate all your residence options carefully, to make sure you have the best chance at finding a pleasant living situation that meets your needs. Also, make sure to see if your chosen university guarantees housing for students. Some schools, mostly those in big cities, do not guarantee housing for upper classmen. You should discuss with your family if finding your own housing will be workable, financially and otherwise.
5. Financial Aid
With the rising cost of higher education, financial aid is typically one of the most important factors students consider when deciding which college to attend. Finances are a personal matter and you’ll have to weigh the cost of each schools benefits versus its associated costs with your parents or other financial support systems. Upon admission to a university, carefully check your financial aid award letter to see what grants, scholarships, and loan options you have. Don’t forget to apply for outside scholarships. Don’t let money be a deterrent for receiving a college education. There are thousands of schools out there that are affordable and there are countless opportunities for securing the funds you need to attend any school.
6. Clubs & Activities
Lastly, do some research into what societies, clubs, and activities are available at the schools on your list. College and university life is about academics, of course, but also about making lasting friendships and having meaningful experiences. Sports, academic societies, Greek life, and clubs can all round out the college experience and help make your 4 years unforgettable. Your university should have a list of clubs and societies on their website, and often the contact information for the club officers is listed. Reach out to these students for more information on activities that interest you. This will help you see what kind of extracurriculars you may want to get involved in, and could help make your final decision that much easier.