So you are just starting your junior year of high school. If that describes you, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out what the one thing on your mind is - college. You are going to spend the better part of the next year and a half trying to figure out where you are going to spend four years attending college after you graduate high school and asking yourself "how do I choose a college?" This can definitely be an overwhelming decision-making process, but it doesn't have to be. To make the journey easier, here are a few steps to help you figure out how to pick a college.
How to choose a college that is the right size for me?
On the surface, this seems like the easiest question to answer because you might just think about small vs large. But if you have never been to college, then how could you know for sure that a certain size of school is the right fit for you? So here are some things to think about when it comes to school size:
- How far will the walk or drive be to your classes?
- Is on-campus housing required or even available for all four years?
- Is it a self-contained school or integrated within a town or city?
- Are you allowed to have a car on campus?
- What is the average class size
All different size schools have their benefits and drawbacks, it doesn’t make one better than the other, it’s just about finding the right size school for you.
What is the student:teacher ratio?
The answer to this might be more than personal preference, how large you want your class sizes to be can be a very practical choice - when class sizes are smaller you can get to know your professors better. Many schools have large lecture type classes where you are one of over 200 students in an auditorium. Even if the teaching is top-notch it can be difficult to get personal advice from your professors or eventually get a recommendation when it comes time to apply to internships and jobs. The class size can change by department so look into the majors you would be most interested in.
How academic is the college I want to apply to?
This questions actually might be a little more clear-cut because you can look at your grades and test scores and compare them to your prospective school’s admissions rates. That’s not to say you should write off every Ivy League school just because all your grades aren’t perfect. At this point in your research, it’s probably best to have a few schools you may be interested in applying to. Just make sure and diversify your application pool. Choose about three safety school, three hopeful schools, and three stretch schools.
What departments does the college or university have and what resources will be available to me?
While most college advisers will tell you that you don’t need to choose a major before you get to school, it still might be a good idea to look further into the majors you might be most considering. For example, if you are thinking about a career in sports broadcasting, looking into a school that has that as a major could be hugely beneficial since not every school offers it.
What kinds of clubs & activities would interest and benefit me at the college or university?
Don’t overlook extracurricular activities available at the school. These can be huge stepping stones on your career path. To continue our Sports Broadcasting example, if you know you want a career as a sports broadcaster then you might want to choose a school that has large sports teams where you could get a job as an announcer. Or maybe you could choose a college which has its own radio station where you could get a job and be able to put it on your resume.
Where do I want the school to be located?
Deciding how far away to move from home may or may not be a big deal to you. If you don’t mind driving far or even flying home when needed, then being far from home might not matter. But if you would want to be able to visit home on the weekends then the location is definitely a big factor for you. Also, consider the climate when looking at schools. If you really hate the snow, then maybe something up north might not be the best choice.
What are the alumni network and school reputations like?
Being an alumnus of certain schools gives you a guaranteed connection with other alumni. The reputation of the school, the size and the number of students can all have an impact on the alumni network. Big-name schools with a lot of clout have the potential to have a lot of opportunities for their alumni. These schools often get their reputation because of the success rates of their alumni; having connections, whether in person or even on LinkedIn, can be something that gets your foot in the door at a company.
Does the college have a good career services center?
Heading to college isn’t just about the education you get there, even if it’s an important part. You are going to want to land a job in your field and a good career services center can be a really helpful part of that process. A career services center can be there to help you navigate the job search and application process, resume review and possibly even help you find internships while in school. This is also the time to see if the school offers career fairs which can be a sign that the school is well connected with businesses and proactive with getting students connection opportunities. Typically if a school has a well-developed career services center, you will be able to easily find information about the centers including staff size and different ways they help students. If this info isn’t readily available online, you can try contacting the school and see if you get a fast response from the right people - another sign of a well-run career services center. Here is a list of Best Colleges for Career Services from bestcolleges.com; while this isn’t a complete list of every school with a good career services center, it can give you even more examples of how helpful they can be!
How to Narrow Down Your College List
Now that you have thought about what kind of schools you might be interested in you need to find practical ways to narrow down your list. Once you have your list of options, narrowing it to a handful of universities that best meet your needs will help you decide to which schools you should apply.
Make a pros and cons list.
Writing out a list of pros and cons to easily measure these schools against one another can be very helpful. If you are just thinking about the school in your head and nothing is jumping out to you, then using a spreadsheet to clearly see what each school has to offer can be beneficial.
Talk to your parents.
The level that parents are going to get involved in the college decision process is going to be different for each family. At some point, parents should at least be able to know your thoughts on the schools you are thinking about. They also might be able to help you narrow down your list by giving practical advice about finances or even give you some insight about what their college preferences were.
Visit The Schools.
It will be impossible to choose the school that is best for you without traveling there, spending some quality time on campus, meeting other students, asking questions and making sure the college is right for you. There are different ways to visit a school and they can give you a different level of insight.
Schedule a campus tour. You will want to do this when school is in session so can get an accurate feel for the campus when all the students are there. You might even be able to sit in on a class.
Overnight visits. Some schools offer an overnight visit where you can stay with a current student. This way you can sleep in a dorm, eat in the dining halls, and meet some other students.
Summer programs. A summer program on a college campus you are interested in can be extremely insightful. You can get the opportunity to stay on campus for anywhere from one week to several weeks. This can give you a real chance to experience the college. Many of these programs even have classes taught by college professors who might be your professor at the school. This type of visit can also help if you are a little nervous about starting college. By the time school starts you will already know where most things are on campus, how to get to classes, what it’s like to live in a dorm with new people and be prepared to start college.
Choosing a college that's right for you isn't easy, but hopefully, this step-by-step guide makes it a bit easier to travel on this journey. The only piece of advice that I left out is...ENJOY THE RIDE!
About JKCP Summer Programs
Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs offers summer camps and programs to students ages 4 – 18 on prestigious college campuses. From cooking to science and business to medicine, we have over 20 programs. Summer should be about doing something you love, meeting people from all over the world, preparing for college or your future career or experiencing something new. At Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, we make summer better by creating experiences people love.