How to choose a college: 7 things you may not think of

By Randi Mazzella
11/30/2016
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When deciding how to choose a college, most students do extensive research on a school’s academic requirements, ranking, and financial aid. While these are all important, there are other significant aspects of college that you may not consider. Here are seven things you may not think of, but are important in choosing the right college for you.

1. Distance

Many students will say they only want to go to a school that is within driving distance of their home. But, schools located in major cities have lots of flights to airports all over the country, which may make it faster and easier to get home by plane than by car, bus, or train. And if you do your research and plan at least a few months ahead, you may be able to find a flight for a lot less than you think.

2. Changing majors

When choosing a college, beware of picking one just because they have a major that you think you want. Students change their minds frequently, especially during the first two years of school when they have a lot of introductory courses. In fact, about 80 percent of U.S. college students change their major at least once. Keep an open mind and look for schools that have strong academic programs across a variety of disciplines.

3. Life outside of college

A big part of college life is getting to know the town or city the school is in. For example, if you go to school at Tulane, you’ll spend a lot of your time in New Orleans and get to experience the Louisiana culture, like going to Mardi Gras and exploring the famous French Quarter. But, just because a school is an hour from a major city doesn’t mean that students go there regularly. Use our College Search for reviews and ratings to see what students really think.

4. Food

Most colleges require freshman and sophomores to be on a meal plan. If you pay for the plan and don’t like the food, it can be expensive to buy alternatives. This can lead to eating a lot of cheap junk food and late-night binges. The quality and variety of food available on college campuses varies greatly. Some schools have several dining halls, while others have just one. Some allow students to use their meal plans at different cafes and shops on campus, or even off-campus restaurants. Check out campus food ratings on our College Search, or ask current students about the food. If possible, eat a meal or two on campus and see if you like it.

5. Weather

In August, my daughter visited a college that had a beach on it. She was immediately captivated by the possibility of taking her books and studying on the sand. That is, until she realized that it wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to dip to 20 degrees or lower by the first of November. So in reality, she’d be spending most of her time in a parka, not a bikini. Weather is an important factor to consider. Unlike in high school where most students stay inside all day, in college, students are more likely to be walking outside to and from classes and meals. If you can’t take the cold, chilly regions like the Northeast may not be ideal places to go to school.

6. Alumni connections

Almost all colleges have career centers to help you look for jobs after graduation. But some alumni organizations are stronger than others. Strong alumni organizations can help with your job search not just after graduation, but throughout your career. To find out which schools have the best alumni networks, check out http://www.bestcollegevalues.org/top-alumni-networks.

7. School spirit

If you’re the type of person who wants a lifelong connection, choose a school with a lot of spirit. Some schools have alumni that continue to cheer on their alma mater long after they graduate, even if they didn’t play a sport in college or attend a single game. There are plenty of people with a strong allegiance to their school that isn’t about rooting for a team, but more about the great memories they made there.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding how to choose a college, and everyone has different needs. Use our College Match to find the right school based on the things that are important to you.

About the author

Randi Mazzella

Randi is a freelance writer and mother of three. She has written extensively about teen life and the college admissions process. Her work has appeared online and in print publications including TeenLife, Your Teen, Raising Teens, About.com, and Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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