Little things can be a big deal

How to Choose the Right College

By Lucas Kavner

You’ve probably pored over certain questions at least ten times over: Which school has the best professors?  What kind of students go to each of these colleges?  Should I go to a bigger or a smaller school?  In a rural or urban area?  Do I have the grades to go where I want?  And how fly are the hunnies/fellas there?

With so many questions unanswered it can be easy to forget some of the little things.   These are great questions to consider asking a college tour guide (they love questions).  You can also think about cornering a random student at one of your choice colleges.  Most times they’ll be more than willing to speak candidly. 

Take a moment to consider a few of these factors when you’re narrowing down the list of potential schools.


A former University of Minnesota student who hails from Arizona tells me, “I loved everything the school had to offer; the classes were great and I really liked all the people.” However, this student just couldn’t deal with the frigid winters.  He found his moods changing and his way of life drastically altered when the temperature dropped below zero.  “I couldn’t handle it,” he said. “It totally affected my life.” 

If you grew up in constant seventy-five-degree weather it might be a good idea to think twice before rushing off to colder climates.  I myself grew up in California and Texas before hauling off to Vermont for college, and it took a lot of getting used to.  I toured the school on a beautiful fall day and then when I experienced my first Vermont winter I was completely blind-sided.  I definitely had no regrets, but it can be pretty rough when that thermometer drops below zero for the first time.  It seems like a small detail, but when you’ve gotten your fifth bout of frost bite and haven’t been able to feel the lower half of your body for three months, you’ll understand where this is coming from. 

Dining Options

Every school these days claims to have “great food.”  I remember when I was touring colleges, three or four different tour guides told me their school was voted 6th on some mysterious Best College Food list.  But there’s more to consider than just whether or not the food tastes good.  Most schools require freshmen to be on a meal plan, but there are often a variety of options to choose from.  Some schools use “points” where you can split your meals up between on and off-campus locations.  Other schools, regardless of whether or not you’re living in a big city, require all meals to be eaten on campus. 

Are you a vegetarian?  Some schools’ vegetarian options are laughable at best, and you may find yourself hording cans of Campbell’s soup back to your room by the busload (yes, busload).  Are you a vegan?  Some colleges have incredible, diverse vegan options every night.  But others?  Well: enjoy your roll! It’s plain and awesome! And it comes with a side of apple sauce.  Definitely check out the fine print of your top schools’ meal plan programs.

Got No Car and It’s Breaking My Heart

You’d be surprised how many schools have pretty tight restrictions against keeping cars on campus— especially for first-years.  If you’re going to school in a big city, this isn’t as much of a concern; but if you’re stuck out in rural Nebraska and the school has a rule forbidding freshmen to keep cars on campus, you might find yourself desperately aching to get off-campus for a couple of hours.  Also, if you’re planning on getting back home once a month, it might be hard to manage without a car on campus. 

If you think you’ll have trouble letting go of that sweet ’91 Toyota Corolla with the slick orange racing stripe, you might want to drop a line to your college of choice’s public safety department and see what the rules are.

Forced Triples?

If you ever see those two words grouped together like that, be wary!  Remember that “model” dorm room you saw on your college tour? Well now imagine that little room filled with three roommates, all fighting for the bottom bunk.  Many colleges offer a variety of options for freshmen—quads, suites, and mini-apartments are often available as early as year one.  But quite a few freshmen do find themselves in the dreaded triples.  If you absolutely want to avoid the triple-threat (Zing!) the only tip I can offer is to be extremely, obsessively detailed with your roommate surveys.  The more detailed you are, the more effort the college has to put in to match you up with someone.  Don’t tell them we told you that, though. If housing concerns you, definitely check out the housing options available.

Core Curriculum

If you can’t possibly fathom square-rooting anything else in your entire life, take a long look at core curriculum requirements.  Most schools have some kind of core curriculum for freshmen; many require all freshmen to take the same set of classes in varying disciplines.  Others, however, offer a bit more freedom.  If you’re worried about those giant-sized classes and the idea of taking the same classes as everyone else, then perhaps a regimented core curriculum isn’t for you.  

Just ask around.  Tour guides and admissions representatives will be glad to detail their schools’ core curriculum for you. 

Campus Visits

Ya got a sweetheart back home?  A best friend who can’t go two minutes without your warm embrace?  Chances are you’ll want him/her to come visit.  Even worse than that forced triple might be certain college’s rules against outside visitors.  Some big city colleges are especially strict against overnight guests and it can be a huge hassle to get anyone into your dorm room, past security, under the radar.  Look into the overnight guest policy at the schools you’re applying to if this is something that might be an issue.

Cost of Local Housing

A lot of schools don’t guarantee on-campus housing all four years, while others try to ensure you stay in on-campus housing for your entire college career.  I know by the time my senior year rolled around, I was looking forward to getting a great off-campus place with some friends.  Luckily, since I was in Vermont, the housing prices were pretty inexpensive.  But you—and I’m sure your parents will agree—shouldn’t forget that big-city living means big-city prices.  Since a lot of the larger schools encourage students to live off-campus in their final years, be sure to check out your top choice’s housing options in detail.