Dreading May 1? Choosing a college was probably one of the most daunting decisions I have ever made and quite honestly I am so glad to be long gone from the college decision process.
First of all, congrats on having options!! You’ve already made it through the worst part of applying and waiting for decisions.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing your college but I’m going to do my best to help you navigate the different “areas of interest” from most to least important so you an make your best decision! I encourage you to read to the end- there’s a helpful game plan and list of next steps.
Scholarship/ Cost of Tuition
This is a very personal but incredibly important factor. Make sure that you and/or your family can afford school/ have a plan to finance it. College can be ridiculously expensive and you don’t want the debt to be something weighing on your shoulders while you are there and for years after.
Colleges wouldn’t have accepted you if they felt it wasn’t the right fit. If you got in, you deserve to be there.
If this is the only thing holding you up, I encourage you to take the leap and go to the more academically rigorous school. At the end of the day, you are there to get an amazing education and if you have the opportunity to get the best education possible, you should take it. (I did this and I’m SO glad I did.)
Programs/ Schools Within Your University
(e.g. Newhouse is a school within Syracuse University; Arts & Science is another school within Syracuse University etc.)
The program you are in has a HUGE effect on your college experience and education. Make sure you do research on the program you were admitted into because this will ultimately shape your entire education.
Also take note that it can be very hard to transfer within the university (depending on the programs etc.) so if you plan to do this, make sure to reach out to a current student and ask them what that process/ admission is like. Schools won’t tell you that transferring within the university can be difficult when you are touring/ deciding. It is definitely doable but this is something to consider.
(For example: if a student is accepted into the Arts & Science program at Syracuse and is planning on transferring into Newhouse, I would advise them that the acceptance rate intra-university is WAY HARDER than it may seem.. you need a close-to-perfect GPA and better grades than the other students applying.)
Size of School
I might be a little bias (OK I am definitely bias) but bigger schools (12k+) always outweigh smaller schools IN MY HUMBLE OPINION. Here’s a few reason why:
- More people= more opportunities to meet new people/friends. I would be so bored if I felt like I already knew my whole grade/ student body. It’s refreshing to keep meeting people throughout your college experience.
- More classes= better opportunity to design your schedule and choose specific classes. Take lab sciences, for example. Because I go to a big school that needs to accommodate a lot of students who are required to take a lab science, I have endless choices of which specific lab science I want to take (I took forensics- it was cool) AND what time and day I wanted to take it. If I went to a smaller school, there would probably only be a limited options each semester due to the low demand. Make sense?
- More professors= more networking opportunities. College professors are AWESOME. They are there for a reason, and that reason is likely because they have worked/ are currently working in the field they are teaching. This is a great opportunity to get to know all of the different professors in office hours and use them to get amazing internships and meet important people in the field. Check out what I did with one of my FRESHMAN YEAR professors, just because I put in effort to get to know him!
- More alumni= more connections. Speaking of internships…. the more alumni there are, the more connections there are to amazing jobs. Easy math.
There are so many more examples, but I hope these were convincing enough. I always would pick a bigger school over a smaller one. Just sayin’.
I don’t think the perfect location is absolutely critical in terms of quality of your college experience, and that’s coming from a girl going to school in the snow capitol of the United States. yuck. The most important factors of the location of the school are
- knowing how you will travel to/ from school (flights get expensive, especially around holidays). I usually hop in someone’s car heading to my area. I’ve never paid to get home! And…
- figuring out how to move all of your belongings to/ from school (you might need to store things every summer which also gets expensive).
End of story: schools closer to home will save you money and time.
As cliché as it may sound, being in a sorority has made my college experience really great. I’ve met incredible girls I’m lucky to call my friends, and you’re immediately welcomed into a huge network on campus. There’s a lot more to sororities than meets the eye including just how rewarding philanthropies are and the leadership experiences you are exposed to. (It also doesn’t hurt that your social events are planned for you!)
If there isn’t Greek Life or if it doesn’t sound like something that interests you, it definitely isn’t the end of the world. Do your research and find out what keeps the non-greek students busy instead.
Study Abroad Program
This is very important!!! I am well aware that every single school you will tour will tell you their study abroad program is amazing and any student can travel to any country but here’s a little heads up: THAT IS USUALLY A LIE! I’ve heard of so many universities that hit students with the “your major doesn’t allow for study abroad” or “that country isn’t in our program” two years in. Once again, this is a good topic to speak to current students about.
The Physical Campus
I reaaallllly encourage anyone to visit campus before making your decision. You will be able to get a sense of the energy and how the campus functions (what does it look like during “passing time”, how far the buildings are from each other, what do the buildings and classrooms look like, how friendly students are if you stop to ask them something… be observant!)
Another thing admissions likes to lie about. Talk to students and see what the lecture halls are like, an average of how many lectures each student needs to take, how small “small classes” really are etc…. This makes a huge difference on how you absorb what you are learning and your relationship with professors.
“RaRa”/ School Spirit
School spirit exists where the students are proud of their college, so if a school has overwhelming spirit (think tailgates, game attendance, etc) this is a good sign. You should be proud to represent your school!
Not a deal breaker, but learn about the housing on campus and think about your living preferences. Check out prices, proximity to campus, on-campus requirements etc. That being said, don’t get hung up on how pretty or aesthetically pleasing the dorms are- it does not matter at the end of the day.
For example, I would be deterred from a school if I learned that on-campus dorm style housing was required for all four years/ student apartments were a drive away from campus/ it was difficult to apply for off campus housing, etc.
DON’T SWEAT IT
There are so many things to consider when choosing a school (see: above). Here are the factors I wouldn’t worry about.
- Clubs. I believe any modern college will uphold the statement “If there isn’t a club you’re interested in, start your own.” Don’t be deterred from a school if they don’t have a club or group that interests you- make your own path (it will make your resume a hell of a lot more interesting too)
- Weather. My least favorite season is winter yet I went to school in probably one of the coldest universities in the states. And I wouldn’t change A THING. Buy a jacket and zip it up. I promise the sight of a full quad on the first 60 degree day will make the hibernation worth it.
- Breaks. Don’t think about when your breaks are or how long they will be- if you choose the right school, leaving campus should be the last thing on your mind.
- Friends. Do not base your decision on if you don’t have existing/ hometown friends going to the school. You will figure it out- college is the time to do your own thing, not follow the crowd. (If you are worried that you will attend the same school and you don’t want to, I promise everything will work out. Friendly familiar faces never hurt!).
- Proximity to major cities. Although it would be nice to visit Manhattan more often, being farther from major cities means I have the opportunity to explore smaller cities closer to campus I would normally never venture to.
- Siblings/ parents. If you have a family member who attended a college of interest, great. Use them as a reference point to bounce questions off of. Hell, even try to stay with them if they’re currently enrolled. That being said, at the end of the day, you are a different person and need to make your own decision. Don’t feel swayed or pressured just because your family member attended a school you were admitted into!
Now what? Choosing a College 101:
- Read this guide. Now reread it.
- Grab a paper and pen and go through this list and take notes on the schools you are considering- kind of like a more organized version of pros & cons. Highlight any points which you have questions about.
- Reach out to current students about any concerns or potential misconceptions. Any student who loves their school will be happy to talk about it! You can find these connections through your high school alumni (your guidance counselor should have a list of students at each college), family friends, friends of friends, etc. I wouldn’t necessarily ask people you don’t already know via social media as they may feel its a little creepy/ not worth their time if you are a “random” person.
- Talk to your parents. Although this is your life and your decision, your parents also probably have a good idea of what’s best for you. If it weren’t for my parents, I’d have been at a very different college than I’m at now.
- Know that it is totally OK to transfer! At the end of the day, you design your own experience and it can sometimes be hard to know exactly what you want before actually getting to experience what college is like. If you aren’t happy, you have the chance to leave. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
I hope you found this helpful!! If you have any questions as an incoming freshman or have more advice as a current student, please comment them below. If you have any friends or family members who are currently in the decision process, share this guide with them- its a stressful time & I wish I had more resources when I was going through it myself!
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