Going to college can be an exciting and intimidating part of life. For many, it’s your first time living away from home. It’s a great opportunity to start growing into your own. But choosing a college in the first place can be tricky. From location to academic offerings to school culture, colleges can vary greatly from one another.
With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. It’s important to keep focused on your priorities and not get bogged down in the finer details. Here are three things to remember when choosing where you’ll go to college.
1. Understand Your Priorities
Take some time to sit down and reflect on why you want to go to college in the first place. Are you an athlete who wants to become one of the best? Are you interested in doing new, cutting-edge research? Do you want to develop your networking skills to kickstart your entrepreneurial career?
Be honest with yourself — with the ever-rising price of tuition, it’s important to make the most of your time and money. Simultaneously, it’s also okay if you don’t truly know why you want to go to college. Perhaps you feel deeply that it’s the right thing for you to do. Just make sure, whatever your reason, that it’s what you really want. Your priorities will influence what you include on your college visit checklist later.
Now that you’ve reflected a bit, make a list of your top three to five priorities. For example, your list might look something like this:
- Finally give acting a real try
- Live abroad
- Learn a new language
- Summer internships
This prospective student could focus on finding international colleges that focus on the arts and other cultural experiences. If that’s not possible, they may tour state schools and ask about their study abroad programs. Their priorities are totally different from what someone who wants to major in finance would prioritize. Keep in mind that everyone’s answers are different — don’t get distracted by what other people want. Write down what matters to you and search for colleges that align with your priorities.
2. Location, Location, Location
No matter what your priorities are, there is one major aspect of college that always differs: location. A college’s location influences just about everything you’ll do there. From the climate and daily weather to the city and its networking opportunities, location is crucial.
An easy first step is to decide if you want to go abroad. If the answer is yes, look at international colleges, and if not, don’t — simple as that. The next step is to look at colleges within a particular region or city. If you’ve decided to stay in the United States, there are many colleges for potential financial technology majors in California. Similarly, colleges in Mexico or Spain will be better than those in France, if you want to study Spanish.
Now that you’ve got a place in mind, or perhaps a few, start looking at colleges in those areas. Again, if you want to study finance, find schools that place particular emphasis on their finance curriculum. Whatever your desired major may be, there is a school somewhere that will cater to it.
Time to go back to list-making. It may seem dull, but it’s crucial to keep your priorities at the front of your mind. Your second list will consist of the questions you want to ask on your college visit. Remember, you’re trying to get a real sense of what life might be like there.
Focus on open-ended questions that give you a better picture of daily life and the school’s values. For example, you might ask, “What kind of student thrives on this campus?” This will give you more insight than a question like, “How many students attend this college?” Logistical questions can largely be answered on the college’s website.
3. Use Your Lifelines
Depending on your situation, going to college can be a massive commitment. Not only can it be a huge financial investment, but it will also take years of your life to complete. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it can feel overwhelming at times. And it may be hard to know which decision is right for you. That’s why it’s important to reach out and ask others what they think.
If you have family members who’ve gone to college, they’re some of the first people you’ll want to consult. They’ve likely known you longer than anyone else and can share their experience and guidance with you. Friends are the next go-to. Ask them if they think the colleges you’re looking at align with your priorities. It can be helpful to have someone hold up a mirror to your decision-making process.
For those of you who feel you don’t have anyone you can check in with, take a look at your community. At school your principal, teacher, or guidance counselor may be able to offer advice. Outside of school, talk to anyone you have regular interaction with. You never know what wisdom someone may be able to offer you, even the clerk at your local grocery store.
With such a big decision on your shoulders, it can be helpful to lift the burden by sharing it. But ultimately, it’s your life, and you have the final say. Take people’s advice into consideration and measure it against your own reasoning and intuition. Let the facts and your experiences do battle, and see what emerges triumphant. Just remember you don’t have to do it all alone.
Apply What You’ve Learned
Eventually, you’ll need to apply to the colleges of your choosing and wait for their response. Depending on what answer you receive, you’ll decide whether or not to actually go. Remember, after all this work, even if a college accepts you, you don’t have to go. Return to your list of priorities and compare it to your experience now. Learning to trust yourself is a skill that will carry you far, perhaps even into your freshman year of college.