Deciding where to attend college can be one of the hardest (and most important) decisions of your life. The choice should not be made lightly or at the last minute. There are several things to consider before settling on a specific campus. Plus, you may be making this decision with your parents. Yes, that’s right; mom and dad will likely want to have a say in this part of your life, too. And let’s face it: whether they pay for your college or not, they’ll want to know you’re making an informed decision.
It’s important to remember that students and parents might look at and evaluate prospective colleges differently. Parents may want to know the hard facts about a school and, of course, how much it costs. Students are more likely to be interested in location and the social scene. So, how do you find colleges that are right for you and ones that please your parents, too? Follow these tips for narrowing your field of dreams to ensure your college choice doesn't become a nightmare.
Getting to Know You
Ask yourself, "Who am I?" This is where your college search should begin. You can’t find the perfect campus if you don’t know who you are and what you want. You’ll need to know things about yourself, such as:
What type of learner am I?
Would I perform better in a smaller or larger class setting?
Is prestige (brand name) important to me?
What type of lifestyle do I envision for myself?
Am I internally motivated, or will I need some external pushing and prodding to finish my degree?
When you have some of the answers, you’ll be better able to pinpoint just what you need in a college campus and can eliminate those that do not fit the bill.
Start Your Search
Do some college research by checking out school websites and informative college-guide websites, such as Unigo.com. Gather unbiased information about the colleges you are considering, including student body details, available financial aid, enrollment size, clubs and activities, and more. Read campus reviews at CampusDiscovery.com to learn what enrolled students have to say about their campuses. Once you have the bigger picture, you should be able to narrow the field even further. Keep in mind that your parents may also be checking these schools for graduation rates, tuition costs, and available majors — all areas that should be of interest to you, too.
Seeing Is Believing
Once you have factored in your needs and your parents' opinions, it’s time to plan visits to the top school choices on your college list. This is very important as you cannot always get a real feel for a school through just a brochure or website. Sometimes, you actually need to be on campus to know if it feels right for you. Schedule college visits well in advance to give yourself additional time for follow-up questions or additional trips, if needed. Be sure to visit some local schools as well; you may find your dream school is closer than you think.
Plan for the Future
Before you make your final choices about where to apply, try to think ahead to determine if the school will truly fit all your needs. Right now, you may be more concerned with just getting through high school and making sure you get into college rather than determining what you may want two or three years from now. However, check to see if your college choices offer opportunities for research or study abroad, as well as what services are available to students for academic support and career placement. These may be important to you in the future, and it's better to know what is or isn't available now than to wait and find out after you have enrolled.
Finally, after looking at all the available options, start the application process. Don’t limit yourself and apply to just one or two schools though. A good rule of thumb is to apply to three to six schools with varying ranges of selectivity and odds of admission. You don’t want to put all of your proverbial eggs into just one basket, as you might end up disappointed. It’s best to apply to a few schools where your chances of getting in are better than good — be sure to cover your bases and keep your options open. In the end, you’ll start your college career knowing you made the best decision for YOU!
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