There are factors that are obviously important when choosing a college—location, cost, etc. But there are also many factors that you may not think about when choosing a college. I’ve collected and listed just some of these less acknowledged factors, in order to hopefully help you out when choosing the right college for you.
This was something that I wish I took into more consideration before I settled on my current university. I go to school in a city that is extremely cold and gray for a good length of time during the academic year. If I could go back in time, I would look at schools that were in warmer climates. While it isn’t something that should necessarily make-or-break your decision, it’s definitely something to think about. If you hate the snow and the cold, then don’t go to a school in Minnesota or Vermont. Similarly, if you think you’ll miss living in a place with four distinct seasons, then don’t go to Miami to Los Angeles.
2. Available Majors/Programs
I know, I know. You are POSITIVE that you want to major in engineering with a double minor in chemistry and biology, or some other crazy plan. But, as you head off to college, you’re going to mature and your interests are going to change. Take myself, for example: I thought I wanted to major in psychology and information science, and go into federal law enforcement. Now, I’m majoring in communication and film studies, and I want to work in tv and film. And, I was able to make such a drastic change because my university provides a wide variety of different programs. So, unless you are absolutely committed to what you feel like you want to do for the rest of your life, I would caution against going to a school that is more limited in its programs, or to a school that is specialized. Sure, you can transfer, but that’s a hassle.
A caveat: if you get into a school like Juilliard, you probably belong there.
Also, take a look at what kind of career services the schools offer. We all know it’s tough to find a job after college—does your school offer any sort of help? Do they have people that can help you find internships? What about setting up mock-interviews and having someone able to review your resume? It’s never too soon to start thinking about heading into the real world, and if your school can help you get a head start on that, then that could be a big plus.
3. Social Atmosphere/Size of the School
Do you want to go to a college where, like high school, everyone knows each other? Or, do you want to go to a school where you can meet a person you don’t know every single day of the semester without much difficulty? There’s a huge difference between a 5,000 person school and a 40,000 person school. If you want more personal attention from both peers and professors, then you might want to pick a smaller school. But larger schools can potentially provide more networking opportunities, especially because there will also be a large number of alumni to get in contact with.
You also want to get a feel for the social atmosphere of the school. It could be a commuter school, where a lot of people aren’t around on the weekends. If you’re coming from far away and will have to stay on campus, then you might not have much to do when classes aren’t in session. Or, maybe you’ve picked a school that has a huge party scene, but you prefer to stay in and hang out in smaller groups. Of course, most schools have a wide variety of activities available so that people with all different sorts of interests can find the group they fit best with, but the overall atmosphere is important to consider. I would recommend getting in touch with a few students that already attend the school and seeing what their opinions are. You want to make sure that you’ll feel comfortable in the setting you’re in.
4. Proximity to Stores/Outside World
Some campuses are very isolated. A couple colleges I looked at were more than a half hour drive from towns, and if you’re that far away from a town, there’s a good chance there won’t be much public transportation available either. And, since most freshman aren’t allowed cars on campus their first year, then you’ll either have to hitch a ride with an upperclassman, walk, or stay on campus all the time. The first month might be okay, but after that you might be wishing the closest movie theater or shopping mall wasn’t an hour away.
Also, this is especially troublesome if you want to buy some of your own food. College dining halls aren’t known for their gourmet selections, and you’ll probably get sick of greasy pizza and burgers pretty quickly. The on-campus convenience stores might sell some stuff, but I’d bet it’s not much more than ramen noodles and peanut butter & jelly supplies. If you want—or need—to buy your own food due to dietary restrictions, or merely a want for something more edible than a rubbery hot dog, then it’s probably a good idea to look at the closest grocery stores to your campus.
Check out what kind of housing your potential schools offer. Do freshman have to live on-campus? How long are you guaranteed housing? Are there any options besides the standard dorm room—i.e., on-campus apartments, suite-style living, co-ed dorms, etc.? How elaborate is the roommate survey? How new are the dorms? Do they have AC/heating? These are all important questions to consider. After all, it is where you’re going to be spending about nine months.
On-campus living is not cheap. However, it might be the only option at certain schools. If you live in an urban area, then there are probably a lot of apartments and housing around the campus that you can move into after your freshman year. Most schools require freshmen to live on-campus, but after that first year, a lot of people do choose to move off-campus to save money. But again, if you go to a school that has a very isolated campus, there might not be much to choose from, if anything. You probably don’t want to have to deal with a long commute to school, or worry about moving into an area that is unsafe just because it’s the only other place besides the expensive dorms.
Take a look at what the school offers. If you’re really into sports, then you’ll probably want to look at larger schools with D1 athletics programs. It’s fun to be able to tailgate and go to football games on the weekends with your friends, and going to a school that actually has a decently popular team makes it all the more fun. Not into football or basketball? Take a look and see if your school offers any club sports, like rugby or qudditch, or even polo! Not into sports AT ALL? No problem — but make sure the schools you’re looking into have lots of other clubs. I know my university has a club for almost any interest, but smaller schools might not have clubs or organizations that fit certain niches.
As a small, young woman, I was concerned about safety when looking at colleges. I didn’t want to feel unsafe walking around campus, whether during the daytime or at night. If you have similar worries, then definitely look into this more. Contact current students and see how they feel. Maybe even contact the campus or local police department. It might seem a little extreme, but if you want to explore your campus and the surrounding area, you better make sure you’re not going to be mugged while doing it.
Honestly, I recommend contacting current students at any school you are considering about ANYTHING you have questions about. Current students can often give you more accurate views of the school than tour guides or admissions officers are able to. People that work for the school want you to apply, so they are very often biased in what they’re telling you. Get the real facts before you commit to a school and good luck choosing.