Choosing the Right College

Ten not-often-considered factors when picking a college

Deciding what college to attend, or even to apply to, usually involves some combination of school prestige, cost, and how good the tour guide was. Although these factors are important, a few other factors should be considered as well.

1. Do you like the area? Not, “Do you like the campus,” but do you really enjoy the city/town/rural area where the campus is located? Although as a freshman, your life will be dominated by life on campus, by the time you gain senior status, the surrounding area will have become much more important. As such, it is crucial to see how good the nearby mall is (does it have your favorite stores?), if there are more than two bars within walking distance (you will be 21 someday), and if there are some cool coffee houses to crash at when the library gets too packed. Although these qualities may seem trite, they really do make a difference in your quality of life over four years. Bottom line: campus can be cool, but will it occupy you for four years?

2. Can you get a career-advancing job in the area? Not a job at the nearby mall selling smoothies, but a job that is in your “field.” Do you want to become a marketing mogul? Then check to see how many marketing firms are in the area, how big they are, and if they offer internships. Interested in social work? See how many social organizations are active in the community and what opportunities exist to volunteer. Although most schools can offer you similar opportunities within the administration (working on college view books, work-study in the communications office, etc.), you may want a more specialized job. You also may want a reason to get off campus a few times a week, or you may have held those jobs in your sophomore year and are looking to fatten your resume in your junior year.

3. Do you like the weather/region? This factor may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how much a climate change can affect your mood (think about how wonderful that first warm day of spring feels). So, if you are from California and going to school in Boston, be prepared to be very, very cold. Relatedly, a person from New England going to school in an earthy Colorado town may encounter some culture shock. Make sure that the area matches your personal climate and attitude.

4. Does your intended major have enough depth and breadth? Now that you have established that you will, in fact, like the area, make sure you will like what you are studying. For example, although most every school has a business major, check to see how focused and knowledgeable you can become within the major. As a high school senior, you may feel that the management or accounting option is enough specificity for you, but by the time you are a college senior, you may not feel the same way. Also, the more specific your academic courses are, the more marketable you become to potential employers.

5. Does the school have the extracurricular activities that you are passionate about? For instance, if you have a passion for taking and developing black-and-white photos, make sure your school has a photo lab and that it is accessible to students even if they aren’t taking a photography class. If you are an exercise junkie, don’t just check out the gym, but also learn how close it is to the dormitories, how crowded it gets, what its hours are, and that it has the equipment you use.

6. What is school spirit like? You don’t have to like sports to appreciate your school going to the championships. The feeling that permeates campus when there is an upcoming event unites students and faculty. Also, is it cool or weird to wear a school sweatshirt? If it is nerdy, you probably don’t want to live with that sort of cynicism for four years. Your college experience will go by much faster if those around you enjoy the institution, whether that be because of sports or because of reputation.

7. Is it easy to get home? Although being away from home is one of the most important elements of college, you will need to see your parents at some point during the four years, namely at holidays. If it is a pain to get home, you will become increasingly frustrated and stressed (not to mention broke) at the worst times: right before breaks, meaning right at exam time. Don’t add to your stress by trying to find good airfare or having to track down that one other person who lives in your town who has a car at school.

8. Speaking of travel, can you and your future friends manage some decent day trips? No college experience is complete without some sort of road trip or excursion, so being in a conducive location for such adventures is important. Being within a few hours of a beach, amusement park, major American landmark, or cosmopolitan city can be a lot of fun.

9. How flexible are the graduation requirements? No matter where you go, there will be graduation requirements, but some schools make it easier than others to graduate. This factor comes in many forms. For example, how many sections of popular required courses are held each semester? Are summer classes easy to take? Are there several classes you can take to fill one requirement? Although your may plan to take four classes each semester for eight semesters, you could get into a car accident, have your wisdom teeth removed, and contract violent food poisoning within a span of three weeks (actual happenings to this author). If a string of events such as this occurs, you will probably want to drop a class. How easy it is to make up the credits?

10. Lastly, what is the attrition or graduation rate? Although the percentage itself seems quite small, it is a bigger indicator of how hard students find life at the college. In other words, the attrition rate may only translate to 30 students leaving, but how many more students almost left because they were unhappy? So, the smaller the number, the less students find their time at that college impossible. Looking at the attrition rate is a good way to make sure the deck isn’t stacked against you from the start.

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