Which College is Right for Me?
Whether you're choosing colleges to visit or you've been accepted and are picking a college to attend, it's easy for "opportunity" to become "anxiety." What should be a happy and exciting time can feel huge and overwhelming when you have multiple options and no clear path.
The first thing you should know is that there are many colleges—not just one—that are right for you. College isn't just what you see on a website, in ranking guides, or even during a single campus visit. Among other factors, your experience depends on:
- The major you select and the courses in which you enroll.
- The people you meet and the friends you make.
- The organizations you join and the activities you pick.
It should make your college decision easier knowing that you have a great amount of control over what you get out of your experience no matter which one you choose, even when cost is a limiting factor. That said, certain colleges may be "more right" for you than others.
Is the College an Academic Fit?
You may know exactly what you want to study, or you may not be sure which major you want to pursue. If you fall into the second category, you can better answer the question, "Which college is right for me?" if you identify some areas of academic interest. Create a list of potential majors, and then:
- Explore academic departments. Take a look at their website pages, meet with a college professor during your campus visit, and attend a college class.
- Review faculty bios, course descriptions, and syllabi.
- Learn about events and speakers the college hosts and publications to which you might contribute.
- Find out about notable alumni in your field and ongoing research at the university.
On your college visits, you can also ask current students what they think about their major. Even if academics aren't the driving factor behind your decision, knowing whether a program is weak or strong can influence your choice.
Will I Be Comfortable with the College Culture?
Some colleges have many different communities. Other colleges are more homogenous, focused on a specific viewpoint. Most fall somewhere in the middle: an overriding student life culture connecting diverse groups.
Consider these questions when you're trying to decide, "Which college is right for me?":
- Is the overall culture of the college a match with your own? If it's not, are you comfortable or excited about that difference?
- Are there communities within the college where you feel a connection?
- Do students stay on campus during the weekends or commute home?
- How do tour guides and current students describe what it's like to attend? Their college advice can give you an inside perspective on campus life.
- What do the clubs, organizations, sports teams, and resources on campus reflect about what is important? For example, if there are 15 clubs dedicated to the sciences but none for performing arts, how does that affect your view of the college?
As part of your college trip planning, try to participate in campus life activities. Attend events, ask for permission to go to a club meeting, and hang out where current college students go.
Don't forget to talk with other students who are visiting. It’s a good way to learn about the type of people who might be your classmates, and it's also a great chance to make new friends.
Is the College Located Where I Want to Be?
There are a lot of ways to think about location:
- Do you want to live closer or further away from home? How easy is it to travel back and forth?
- What's the climate like? Do you prefer campus life at cold-weather colleges, hotter weather, or a location that offers all of the seasons?
- Do you want to be close to a specific city? What type of setting do you want (for example, in the city, a suburb, or a rural area)?
Also, take the time to explore nearby college resources when you visit campus. It may make your decision easier if you know how far away the nearest restaurants or grocery stores are or if you can find the comforts of home close to your residence hall.
Instead of "Which College Is Right for Me?", Ask "What's Important to Me?"
Answering any of these questions and making a decision about which college is right for you becomes easier once you've talked with friends, current students, parents, and admissions officers; visited different types of colleges; and really explored the schools in which you're most interested.
Also, take the time to think about your interests, your goals, and your personality. Be honest with yourself about what matters most. Once you do, you'll know more about what you want out of your college years.