When you first get down to the business of choosing colleges to apply to, the amount of available information that is thrown at you can be daunting. The endless lists of statistics and rankings are difficult to process. The task of actually choosing 8-10 schools that you like more than the rest can seem borderline impossible.
To deal with this dilemma many students look for schools based on common and general factors. Location, cost, size, and majors offered are primary considerations for students, and all of them are very important. Additionally, students use standardized test scores, acceptance rates, and US News rankings to gauge the prestige of the schools and judge whether they are “good enough” for them. These are an important start in searching for colleges, but the reality is that choosing a college is like choosing a new home. If you were buying a new house, you would be careful to learn about your neighbors, the restaurants nearby, the layout of your building, the proximity to your office, and much more. Just like in finding a house, finding the right college for you will be the result of scouring for details.
Here are a few overlooked but vital things to look for in a college that will help you both narrow down your application list and end up at a school you’ll love.
- Housing (And Not Just for Freshman Year!) Where you live might not seem like it will impact your education much, but having a comfortable living space can be key to feeling at home at your school. Now, you don’t need to live in a luxury apartment, but having clean, safe dorms at a good spot on campus can only add to your college experience. Word of warning – be sure to look at housing options for beyond your freshman year. You won’t want to overlook a school’s policy about off-campus housing only to realize later on that your school doesn’t allow you much choice in your living space.
- Paid Internships/Co-ops. Many students are concerned about their job prospects after graduating college. Typically they look at statistics like average salaries of graduates and job placement rates. Often neglected in the search is the existence of paid internships or college-sponsored Co-Op programs. This is a mistake; opportunities like these provide students with valuable work experience while also dishing out a little extra cash, something that students with loans can really benefit from. Check to see if a college you are looking at offers these – if they do and you take advantage, your experience is likely to pay dividends down the road. While you’re at it, take a look at the school’s career service center to make sure it is helpful and effective!
- Academic Support Services. No matter how rigorous your high school was, the sheer nature of college academics will likely come as a shock to you. Luckily, many colleges provide a multitude of resources to help manage this transition and support your intellectual growth throughout your four years there. Seek out colleges with writing centers, tutoring services, and workshops to improve your academic skills. College work is challenging, so the availability of services like these can make assignments less daunting and give yourself a foundation of confidence from which you can grow and develop.
- Professor Quality and Accessibility. Some students will apply to a college based on the vague notion that it is “good for (insert major here).” Instead of relying on these dubious notions of reputation, do some research about the professors in the departments you are interested in. What are their areas of expertise? How available are they for extra help, and do students take advantage of these opportunities? Are professors actually involved in student life, or do they mainly just stick to research with graduate students? Are their teaching skills praised? Having professors you like and respect is integral to liking your major, doing well in class, and getting strong letters of recommendation.
Most importantly, remember that your college search process is primarily about you. Think hard about what you like and what your goals are, and you’ll find schools that feel like a perfect fit in no time. Taking the time to delve into the college search with an active and probing mind is your first step to happiness and success in higher education. Go get looking today!