First look for schools which are strong in the area of study in which you are interested (obviously). If you're not sure what you want to study, look for schools that allow you more academic freedom to take many different classes and experience different subjects. I feel that the best of these even allow you to integrate several subjects and create an individual course of study. Small class sizes means it is easier to participate in class and ask questions. Smaller schools allow for greater contact with faculty. Talk to as many students as possible; the students who got there will give you the best picture of the school. Schools which require a lot of independant work and project-based assignments may be weird at first if you're more used to a traditional system of listening to a lecture, studying and taking a test; but there are major advantages to such schools. Independant work forces you to think critically about subjects, be creative and ultimately get a great deal more knowledge and experience out of your education. Bottom line: If you're not happy there you won't be able to learn as much.
Any college can provide a rich academic experience if you are truly committed to materializing it. If such is the case, and receiving an education is your undivided objective, the best thing you can do in your situation is find a school that is affordable for you, and one with reputable faculty in your fields of interest. For you other 98% of applicants... The truth is that the movies are correct in their portrayals. Most colleges are operationally designed to be four-year summer camps at which to live out your protracted adolescence. Yes, you might read Edward Said's essay on Orientalism, learn about Game Theory, take up the mandolin, or any other such mind-expanding undertaking. But if you are the type to enjoy Orson Welles films or Marcel Proust novels, chances are you will have done so already, or would do so sans college education. So, don't spend more money on your education than the opportunities it will provide (ie the reputation of the school) are worth, and make sure you're going to a school in a place you'll appreciate, because you're going to be living there for the next four years, plus.
The first and most important aspect to consider is how satisfied and happy you will be in your academic studies. This does not neccessarily mean you know exactly what you want to major in or do but you want to be comfortable in your learning environment and with college there is more of an opportunity to really find a place that suits you, unlike with traditional highschools. That said, it is not as simple as pure academic considerations, but also the social environment and location need to be take into account. I do not believe it is possible to have a good experience at college if you absolutely hate the social atmosphere or the location of the college, even if you are quite satisfied academically. So, you need to think about finding a balance there. However, to be certain, academics come first and I would think it rather silly to go to a college based on the social or location alone or above the academics, since in the end, you are not paying large amounts of money to socialize but to learn. The last thing to consider is the money. College is going to cost a lot of money.
While at Hampshire, I fell in love with learning. I had the freedom to engage with subject matter (psychology, more specifically psychoanalysis) that I was passionate about. I learned how to think and write analytically. I learned how to integrate theory and practice in my writing. Within the field of cognitive psychology, I learned how to conduct psychological research and even designed my own study. I developed skills in writing reflective introspective peices. During my fourth year, I conducted a year-long project called my Division III. The paper was over 100-pages and it provided a complex view of childhood, with reflections on my own childhood, interviews with others about important childhood artifacts, a discussion of the image of the "Romantic child" and psychoanalytic feminist theories. Through this project, I learned a great deal about the revising and editing process. More importantly, through this ambitious project, I really learned how to value my own personal voice. I couldn't have imagined a more fulfilling college experience than I had at Hampshire.
Miranda, Three words (you may have heard them before) : It Gets Better. Trust me, honey, it does. You are trapped in a downward spiral, funneling you towards chaos. But that is not your way! That whirlwind tunneling down, down, is for the ignorant, stubborn, weak-minded idiots that surround you - do not let them take you along! Theirs is a future filled with disillusionment and disappointment; they will constantly be living between weekends, working boring, laborious jobs with a family chosen in high school that they will come to realize they do not love. Yours is a future filled with wonder, awe, love, and inpirational people; you will change the world, one student at a time. Your dream is to teach and inspire - you will do it! Just hang in there a little bit longer! As soon as you exit the premises of that rat-hole you've called home, the world will expand before you. Never forget who you are, and never let others attempt to tell you who that is. I love you, you'll do great things. Love, Miranda
Everything you think about college life is all wrong, yet right at the same time. Yes, people love to party. No, you will not able to drown it out with a fan and sleep through it. Yes, there is a lot of work in college. No, you are not going to be up until 3am every night. Only some nights. Yes, the Freshman 15 is real! No, unfortunately, you will not escape it. I know all that I've said sounds kinda scary, but it's really not. You'll get used to the noise. If not, be the brave person in your hall that tells people to be quiet. People will love and hate you for this. For work, just make sure you do all the readings and finals are a piece of cake. And the weight gain... please, just eat less pizza. It's not as good of an idea as you think. But what makes all these annoying and scary things worth it, are your friends. Be more social than you normally would be. Remember to keep putting your neck out, and talk to people. Because those sleepless nights are worthless without your friends doing the same.
The one thing I would caution myself against is the overzealous spending of money. I had a job for two years during highschool so I got used to the idea of a steady income. I just assumed that I would easily be able to find a job on or off campus and continue to have money for, oh, the little things like text books, ink cartridges for my printer, and food. The economy and the fact that the area I live in has 5 major colleges, so the job market is flooded with college students and minimum wage part time jobs are a rarity, have proved me wrong and I am struggling on a daily basis to be here. While transitioning first year socially and academically and mentally was difficult, I learned so many valuable lessons that I wouldn't want to deprive myself of during my first year of college. So beyond financial advice, I would probably leave my high school senior self with a pat on the back and a hearty "Good luck! Stay safe!" before travelling somewhere else in time.
To the students: Be selfish. Think only about what you want, and what will make you happy. Don't think about where your friend is going or where your mom went. Think about what kind of setting will make you happy for the next 2-4 years of your life. To parents: Let go. It's hard, I know. But it will be best for us students in the end to be left to our own devices in a place that has a support system already built-in. Let us fail in college first, not at life. When choosing a major, again, be selfish. The only time that I was ever unhappy at school so far was when I was doing things that I didn't love. This is the rest of your life we're talking about, here! If you love doing something, make it what you do. Don't go to business school because it will make you money. Don't settle for that. You know the saying "money can't buy happiness"? Now, do you remember the one that goes "If you are doing what you love, you'll never work a day in your life?" Truth.
You know, I and a lot of students I know really didn't know where we wanted to go. I can say that, if you hated highschool, don't choose a college that seems like an extension of highschool. If you need some structure, choose a place that will give you that. Look at what students at the school have said, the resources available through the school and in the area. When you get there, take classes that will challenge you. In my opinion, college is not the time to work the system. Find professors that share your interests. Take classes from them and show that your invested. The more interest and determination you show, the more seriously you'll be taken. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to what you need to do for yourself to do your best. This might mean working late at night. It might mean taking a lot of breaks or exercising on a schedule. Nobody else can really tell you how to do well.
Follow your passions and don't give up on the place you really want to go to. Also: your first choice might not actually be the best place for you, really look into the off-beat places that people recommend to you. If I hadn't taken advice from a close friend, I would have never found Hampshire College. Plus: first impressions are NOT everything. Talk to students, and not just your tour guide. Ask questions OTHER THAN "Is the food good?" (Your kid WILL find SOMETHING to eat) And... walk around the campus without a tour guide too, you can get a good feel of things without someone blabbing in your general direction. Statistics Are NOT everything. Good luck!