Deciding Between Colleges: 7 Things to Think About First

High school seniors should consider these questions before choosing a school, especially if they’re in the fortunate position of deciding between colleges.

My friends and I like to joke about how the food in our college’s dining halls just happens to taste better on the days when prospective students come to see the school. Except it’s not really a joke. The food is remarkably better.

What gives?

Factors to consider when deciding between colleges

After spending most of your senior year doing everything you can to prove to various colleges that you’re worthy of being there, sometimes it’s easy to forget that colleges are businesses – and they want you to buy in. So it makes sense that when you go to visit campus as a potential student the dining hall food tastes fantastic. That’s why it also makes sense that you’ll undoubtedly see the brand new buildings and the most up to date dorm rooms.

[More on National College Decision Day and what steps to take next here.]

It can be easy to focus on the things that colleges want you to see. And sure, maybe the food quality doesn’t decline dramatically once the school year starts, and maybe you end up in the best dorm on campus, but there’s more to a college decision than the “big things” like food, dorms, academics. These are important factors in any college decision. I also know that location, price, scholarships, and overall prestige of the school play a huge part in a student’s choice.

I want to offer a few other considerations that might be helpful in making a college decision. Admittedly, they’re not quite as crucial as some other factors, but they’re worth thinking over and might be helpful if you’re stuck deciding between colleges when you have several options.

1. Will you be able to major in what you want to?

I went into my freshman year not knowing what I wanted to study. It took some time to figure out which areas piqued my interest and fit my skill sets. While there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what you want to study, I ended up having to apply to both the majors I’m interested in. As I’m writing this I’m still waiting to hear back, and I can promise you it’s not a great feeling to know there’s no guarantee I’ll end up in either.

If you’re like me and don’t know what you want to study yet, I’d suggest doing at least a little research. What majors does your school offer? Do you have to apply? If so, how many students are accepted and what’s the acceptance rate?

2. How invested are your school’s professors in actually teaching?

It may seem counterintuitive, (after all, what else could those old professors do but teach?) but this is important to look into. At my school, a lot of professors are focused on their own research. Many have work or books published, or are working on writing such things. I’ve actually had professors cancel class because they get called away to speak at conferences.
While I love that my professors are passionate about their fields and invested in their work, sometimes it’s very obvious that teaching class isn’t their top priority. When you’re paying thousands of dollars to be sitting in that seat in class, you should expect the staff to put a certain amount of effort and attention to their class and students.

[More on advice to freshmen from college professor here.]

3. How big is the campus? (And how good is the transportation system?)

My college campus is absolutely massive, even for the medium to large size student body it hosts. Walking to class is a 15-20 minute endeavor, and when you’re constantly running late like I am, it’s easy to get jealous of friends at smaller schools who can roll out of bed for the five-minute walk it takes to get anywhere.

You can also consider other transportation options that are (or aren’t) available. For example my school has a fantastic bus system that can get you pretty much anywhere you want to go around campus for free. There’s also a plethora of Ubers and taxis in the area, as well as a train station and airport.

4. What’s the surrounding area like?

No matter how great your campus is and how many ways there are to get involved at school, you’re going to want to get off campus sometimes. I adore the area that surrounds my school. There are countless locally owned food joints, boutiques, and shops I’ve never seen anywhere else. The area also draws big name concerts to our local venues, as well as exciting art, film, and music festivals. There are museums and historical locations to explore, as well as hiking trails, swimming holes, and a ski resort within an hour’s drive.

If you’re always looking for an adventure or something to do like I am, it wouldn’t hurt to do some research on the area surrounding your school or take time to explore it yourself!

5. How strong are the alumni connections?

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Getting a job right out of college isn’t easy, and alumni who care about helping out fellow graduates can be key to landing a dream internship or job. Some schools’ alumni are just much more invested. A Google search should bring up the results that you may want to look over.

6. How easy is it to get involved?

One frustration I have with my school is that it’s highly competitive – and the competition doesn’t stop once you get there. Students have to apply or try out to be in certain clubs, organizations, and even volunteer positions. While there are plenty of groups that don’t promote this kind of exclusivity, I really can’t convey in words the frustration of being denied a volunteer position, or being told you didn’t make the cut to give your time and energy to be a tour guide.

Being a member of a few clubs or groups can really change your college experience, so talk to current students and see how easy it is to get involved.

7. Most importantly?

All other factors aside, choosing a school when you are deciding between colleges is ultimately your decision. Go where you can see yourself having the experience you want to get out of college. That’s different for everyone and it’s important to think about where you can really see yourself living, learning, and becoming involved for the next four years.

Related:

How to Have the Best Parent’s Weekend

Ten Commandments of Dorm Shopping

Photo credit above: Annie Berning

KWatsonKaleigh Watson is a sophomore at the University of Virginia, about to declare a major in either public policy or media studies. She stays busy with her sorority, competes with the club snowboard team, and tutors kids in Spanish. In her free time she loves to run and spend time hanging out with friends!

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