It’s the start of spring semester of your high school junior year (or your child’s junior year). As quickly as the school year seems to be flying by, senior year will be here even faster. Soon, your friends who are a year older will head off to colleges – both near and far from home. But what about you? How do you know where you might want to go to college? You know this decision will have life-long implications, but how do you decide what your next step should be?
First of all, college is not for everyone. There are plenty of options that do not involve going to college, including finding a job, apprenticing, or joining the military. Additionally, some high school students elect to take a gap year if they don’t feel quite ready to go straight to college and succeed. A gap year can be a great option for many students.
But if you already know that you want your education to continue beyond high school, how do you know what college or university would be a good fit for you? There are many ideas to consider as you start to consider your college choice.
Location, Location, Location
Are you someone who wants to be able to go home from college over weekends, or who hates flying altogether? Then you might think about going to a college no more than a couple of hours drive from home.
What if you want to venture to another part of the country? Then it might be wise to consider locations that have an airport close to campus with plenty of non-stop flights from your hometown. An added bonus is if the college campus has easy public transportation to and from that airport. These simple logistical considerations can make flying home for breaks considerably easier.
Another consideration is if you are a city person or if you prefer the solitude and quiet of nature. Some campuses are integrated within cities with round-the-clock hustle and bustle, while others may have quite a bit of open space surrounding the campus. The lifestyle of college students in a big city is quite a bit different from the lifestyle of college students in a rural or quiet area.
The size of the campus is another significant consideration. Some campuses are so large that it can be a few miles from one side of campus to the other, making a bike necessary to travel between classes. Sometimes a 15-minute walk between dorms and the closest on-campus dining hall is enough to convince some that they do not want to go to college there!
The key is to be realistic and honest about what you like and what would make you miserable. For many students, choosing where they go to college is the first time they really have a choice to make about their educational path.
Cost, Competitive Colleges, and Courses
In addition to the choice about the best location for your college are the very real considerations about costs, classes offered, and where you are able to earn admissions. Brand name colleges are not the only ones out there. For a particularly enlightening read, look at Colleges that Change Lives By Loren Pope. This book and the website explore some of the less familiar colleges that offer an excellent range of experiences. Your goal is to find a college or university that will both challenge you academically and support your growth as a person.
Another book to research many colleges and universities is the Fiske Guide to Colleges, updated each year .
Doing a little research will help you form a good list of possible colleges and universities to which to apply. You will definitely want to talk with your parents to understand the relative costs of different colleges or universities, and what is affordable for you and your family. However, keep in mind that it is difficult to get a solid estimate of total cost until you have been admitted and submitted all the relevant financial aid forms. Only then can you have a clear estimate of costs. Watch for more information on financial aid in a later blog.
Reality vs. Instagram
We’ve all seen those “Reality vs Instagram” posts. Things are often not as they seem. Your older friends’ Instagram posts from college may only highlight their friendships, parties, fraternities, sororities, and social lives. But in reality, your friends are probably also spending hours reading, writing, doing problem sets, completing labs, etc. At the end of the day, you are going to college for education. While making friends and having a great social life are definitely part of any college experience, there is more to it than just the fun stuff. Remember, the memories you create, the lessons you learn, and the connections you make are all important aspects of a college education. For many people, their closest friends that last a lifetime, are friends or roommates they met in college.
Your goal for making a list of colleges to consider is to be honest with yourself and your family. Be realistic, open-minded, and inquisitive. Dream big, make lists, visit some colleges and universities, explore campuses, and revise your list. Being honest about what you want is the first step. What your friends want and need in a college may not be what is the best fit for you. Your goal is to find YOUR best fit in a college!
Sometimes getting excited about a few colleges or universities can be the motivator for focusing on test prep when the time is right!