Five Steps to Choosing A College

One of the most stressful aspects of high school is choosing the right path once high school is over. For most of our students, that means a 4-year college or university. However, there are nearly 2500 public and private 4 year institutions in the US alone, so how do you choose the correct one? Here is a simple, 5 step process to get the ball rolling.

  1. Determine where you want to be. There are schools all throughout the US. You can decide the general vicinity of where you’d like to be, and then begin looking at options. We recommend starting to plan during the summer between sophomore and junior year. Some students choose to be close to home, while others want to travel and explore new parts of the country. Regardless of what you decide to study, odds are good that there are a variety of colleges in the region of your choosing. The school of your dreams in a city you hate is no longer the school of your dreams.

  2. Make a list of colleges in the area. Once you’ve determined roughly where you want to be, start compiling a list of colleges that interest you. Make sure you check out the programs of study that they offer. For instance, if you want to be at a school with an elite business program, only include schools offering business degrees on your list. You need a list of at least a dozen schools, since you’re going to narrow this list down over time. Make sure you have an even gradient of schools. Include some that are very competitive for your academic status, and others which you’re confident will accept you. Doing this is essential to ensure you have options and don’t end up attending the only school that accepts your application.

  3. Determine which schools on your list meet your desired learning style. While going through high school, you’ll inevitably fall in love with certain classes, and hate others. Spend some time trying to understand why, and then work to explore colleges that emulate the style you prefer. For instance, if you like small, intimate class settings, then going to a large state school will not be a good fit. Instead, explore nationally ranked liberal arts colleges, which typically have well-balanced student : professor ratios. Cross colleges off of your list that don’t meet your desired teaching style. This data is readily available online: you can see class size, student : faculty ratios, sports information, and other data that may impact your decision.

  4. Determine what academic requirements you need to meet. Once you have a short list of 8-10 colleges, determine what it will take to get into these schools. Find their average SAT/ACT scores, and aim to exceed these substantially. Having higher than average scores will increase your odds of being accepted, and also increase the potential for academic scholarships. Everyone wants to attend college for less, so this is a win for both you and your parents. Make sure you know all of the application requirements. Some colleges require additional testing such as SAT subject tests, and you’ll need time to prepare for these.

  5. Start visiting colleges your junior/senior year. While reading about colleges and watching videos is helpful, nothing compares to actually visiting these colleges. While visiting, try to get an understanding of what campus life looks like. Speak with current students. Some colleges have scheduled times for potential upcoming freshmen to visit and mingle with current students. Every college puts on a good face in their marketing videos, but speaking to students attending the school will give far more insight into what campus life actually looks like. Use this data to further dial in your college list for applications.

Picking which college to attend for 4 years of your life is stressful and difficult. Start with manageable steps and learn about colleges which genuinely interest you. Being satisfied with your college choice is very important, and will dramatically reduce the stress of the entire application process. Finding a school which echoes the values you find important will make you more likely to develop a passion for continuing your education. These five steps aren’t comprehensive. Each student should determine which aspects of the college experience are most important to them, and find colleges which meet those needs. Learning about colleges early on will be the best tool to ensure happiness during the fall of your senior year.

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