When chosing a college, it is important to select the school that best suits your needs, not the needs of others. It is important to make sure the school is accredited and has a good reputation, but do not chose one school over the other simply based on prestige. Consider diversity, location, lifestyle, and of course, coursework.
I believe that the most important and useful resources when searching for the "right" or "best" college are 1) the advisors and professors themselves, and 2) the students who attend that college/university for the same degree plan the school shopper is looking for. Find out what YOU are looking for in your educational experience. Compare and contrast what you want available to you during and after your academic career, and what your potential school has to offer you. Take into consideration what the costs of tuition and daily living expenses are and how you will pay for them; where you will live and what the city/area has to offer; what career services and job opportunities are available; how your school works with the community to provide internships/experience to students in your program; what you want in your school as far as extracurriculars, schedules and types of classes, student/study facilities; etc. Make a list of all of these variables and use it to ask MANY questions among all of your resources. Set up interviews with advisors, professors, and their students to find out the pros and cons of each school you are considering from these various perspectives.
I would tell them to not commit to a university until you know everything about it. First, interview students that go to the university you are interested in to get a feel of the educational community and social aspects the college has to offer. Secondly, go to an advisor in the college you wish to major in and sit down to draw out a personalized semester by semester schedule. Then talk with financial aid counselors to ensure beforehand how you are going to pay for your education while still having enough money to live on. Finally, make sure that you will be able to have a social life away from school. Only you can make the most out of the college experience, but it helps if the university you are attending gives you the extra boost.
As a student leader and former Orientation Leader, I have often answered this question for future students and their families. Depending on whether or not they plan to come in as an athlete, I tell them to carefully read the terms of any meal plans. A problem at my campus is that the athletes practice up until the places to use their meal plans are closed and end up with a hundred unused meals that do not rollover to the next semester and are lost. If the student is not an athlete, I advise them to listen to what people have to say about each college and talk to at least one student at each college they visit. I checked out a couple other colleges and at each one I managed to ask a student who was working at a desk, what they thought the best and worst things about this campus were. Most of the time I got into longer conversations that turned out to be extremely helpful. My favorite piece of advice is to buy and sell books online. I also wait until I meet the professor and find out if he really requires all the books listed.
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