So, Uh, How Do You Actually Pick a College?
After the anxiety of applications and the tense months spent waiting, the vast majority of high school seniors know which colleges have admitted and which have rejected them. For students with a clear favorite, or who only applied to one school, the decision is a no-brainer. But there are plenty of kids out there who received multiple chipper CONGRATULATIONS! emails, and who are now left trying to figure out which school will be the best fit. No stress, kids — this is just The Biggest Decision You’ve Probably Ever Made, To Date. So we’ve come up with some tips on how to decide between multiple good choices:
- Pick the best option for you. That might mean going to college thousands of miles away from your best friend, or opting for the college that most closely matches your dreams, even if your mom would really love it if you attended her alma mater. Remember, this is your life — don’t get swayed by other people’s opinions, no matter how well-meaning they may be.
- Consider cost. Student loans are no fun. Financial aid can make a big difference, as can in-state tuition. But make sure to look at calculations closely, as many top liberal arts schools have programs to make their usually-pricey degrees affordable; recent reports showed that some California residents could get an Ivy League education for less money than four years at Cal State.
- Where do you want to spend the next four years? Hopefully you won’t spend all your time trotting between your dorm, the quad, and the library. Virginia Tech is near some gorgeous mountains. At Tulane, you’ve got New Orleans as your playground. And remember that you may well make connections with friends, internship placements, and potential employers in your university’s city; all the better if it’s a place you can actually see yourself living for the long haul.
- Don’t be blinded by prestige. Yes, you would look great in a Harvard sweatshirt. Yes, it is very impressive that Salman Rushdie teaches at Emory. But bragging takes a few seconds; going to college lasts for four years. Pick a place where you’ll be happy to spend your time, not a place you’ll be happy to name drop.
- If you know what you want to study, compare the departments, not the schools. Many incoming freshmen have no idea what they want to study. But say you know your passion is international relations, or creative writing. If you’re choosing between two schools, ignore the bigger picture for a second. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in your department of choice, make sure it’s a solid one. Every school has its areas of relative strength and weakness; all the better for you if your college prioritizes stuff you’re interested in. That means more on-campus conferences, more big-name professors, and more students with similar academic interests.
- Don’t neglect the non-academic. One reason I decided to go to my undergraduate alma mater was because it had a badass radio station. That wasn’t a deciding factor, of course, but considering the amount of time I spent in those basement studios during my four years at college, it certainly could’ve been. Sports, extracurriculars, off-campus opportunities — all of them could become a major secondary focus of your college time. Remember, you don’t spend all four years in the classroom.
- Follow your heart. Some part of you already knows where you want to go. You know what I mean. Listen to that part.