How to Pick the Right College
You've survived classes, PE, amassed enough extra-curricular activities to become the next president, and have risen to the top of your class in rank. You've taken the SAT, perhaps the ACT, and all those finicky little subject tests that may (or may not) be of use in the future. Now, you are ready to apply to college. You are almost finished with high school and are ready to move onto the next step in your academic and social education.
Before you even begin the entire application process (which comes with an entirely new set of rules and suggestions), selecting the college you will attend is a job in and of itself. Here are some guidelines to help you pick the right college for you.
The big thing to do is apply to many schools. While this may seem like a guideline for later on in the process, it is important to remember this early. When you are shopping around for schools, shop around a lot. If you look at many, you will have many from which to choose.
Again, as you are searching for that perfect college, remember to pick many types. Pick some safety schools (that you can guarantee admission), pick a few "reach" schools (that you'd adore to attend in dreams), and some regular schools (that you're pretty sure are your type, but are not guaranteed). From these, you'll be able to pick the right one for you, because you have such a range of options.
Location is significant in picking the right college for you. Perhaps you hate the cold or would never dream of studying in the heat. Therefore, pick a college that is in a location you would like to live. Also, perhaps location is important for family matters. You may want to go as far away from your parents as possible, or you may want to stay close enough to go home on weekends. This is an important aspect of picking colleges, because it will probably be your first time truly away from home for such a long period of time. You want to be the right distance from them and in the right location for your personality.
While it is a negative aspect of education, it is a necessary element to consider. Public state (and city) schools are infinitely cheaper than private schools. However, if you have the money or you are willing to take out many loans to finance your education, then a private school may be for you. Look at the annual tuition for each school, as well as the cost of living of the particular city in which the school is located.
Research the school to see if it offers sufficient and significant amount of extra-curricular activities that suit your interests. Most universities are centers of diversity and activities. However, some colleges are more intensive in the arts than politics or the sciences than film. Research the societies, clubs, and classes offered to make sure you select the best fit for your personality and course of study.
A school's environment can determine much of your happiness. If you want an all woman's college, select one. If you are looking for a very professional-intensive atmosphere, there are colleges designed specifically for that. And if you want bohemian culture, pick a college that is known for its environment. These colleges have particular reputations, so it is always helpful to visit the schools ahead of time to know if it is for you.
While this section may only apply to a few of you, it will apply directly to those few. You may be looking for a college with an intense population of your own minority, culture, religion, background. Schools also have overt (and unwritten) reputations for cultural attachment. This is another aid in picking the best college for you.
For better or for worse, US News and World Report comes out with an annual ranking of all colleges in the US. Many people consult this guide to see what schools are academically "superior" to others. Of course, these are just arbitrary ranks. However, if prestige and name are important to you, you'll probably be stuck on the Ivy Leagues. These are difficult schools to get into; however, if name is important to you, then it will help narrow down your selection quite rapidly.
If you already have a specific academic route in mind, you may select a school based on the reputation of the academic department, and moreover, on the names of particular professors who teach at the college. Big names are often magnets for students.
Now that you have narrowed down all the schools for your specific desires, it is ready to begin application process. Consult our How To Get Into College Guide for guidelines and advice on that process.