When coming up with a college list, pretty much everyone uses the same criteria: size, location, academic standing. Big or small? City or rural? Is it top of the list in U.S. News & World Report?
Those three questions are great for starting, but there is so much more to college life. While a school may be small, prestigious and near a beach, the Greek life may be way too much for you. And while you might want to be in the city, you may be upset when you see how little interaction students actually have with professors. Check out our list of criteria to see the best questions you can ask when narrowing down your college list.
1. Will the basic amenities meet your needs?
While some people may get excited about the idea of living in a classic dorm setting (and sharing a bathroom with more people than you ever thought possible), you may be horrified at the prospect. Make sure that the school you’re considering will meet your most basic criteria. If you can’t stand the thought of eating the same soggy pizza every day for dinner, look for a school that is known for offering lots of variety or that gives you plenty of dining dollars along with your meal plan to visit local restaurants. Or if it’s housing that gives you the jitters, check out this HC list of unique dorms to find a living situation that’s more beautiful, spacious or private than at other schools.
These needs may seem unimportant compared to a school’s academics or cool programs, but remember that you’ll be living here for four years—the basics will really affect you! Talk to current students at the school and do some online research (schools will often have virtual tours or photos on their websites) to determine if you’ll be able to stand living and eating at the school as well as learning.
Michelle Podbelsek of College Counseling Associates, however, warns against crossing a college off your list just because you don’t like the dorm room you saw. “I hope that a student doesn’t pick a college for a dorm,” she says. “If you narrow it down to one little thing like that, you’re missing out on the really big picture.” It’s just one other thing to consider.
2. Do you like the extracurricular activities that are offered?
Yes, you go to college to get an education. But you’re not going to be spending all (or even most) or your time in the classroom, and you want to attend a school with plenty of activities that will interest you and keep you busy and happy during your four years. If you’re a dancer, see how many dance troupes are at your school, and if there is one performing the style that you like. Maybe you want to play sports to stay fit, but you’re not interested in crazy Division 1 athletics. Does your school offer plenty of intramurals and recreational teams? Will you be able to do serious art without declaring an art major? Look under the “Student Life” section of the school’s website to find a list of clubs and extracurricular activities.
HC Campus Correspondent Bianca Ortega, who attends Belmont University, also suggests looking into how easy it will be to make your own extracurricular activity. “My school has a very specific policy and method of creating campus organizations that I would've never thought of inquiring about when touring and applying,” she says.
Certified Educational Planner Judi Robinovitz stresses the importance of checking into extracurricular activities. “If I’m a young woman who really enjoys giving something back to my community, I need to be sure of the support of this campus culture,” she says. “I need to find out what service opportunities there are, and if there are certain things that I enjoy doing, if I like to volunteer at a nursery school, I want to know that there’s something nearby where I can do the same thing. If I’m very into my religion, I need to know that there’s an outlet for me on campus, even if the school isn’t religiously affiliated.”
3. Will you get what you need academically?
Make sure you will be able to take classes that will interest you in college. If you want to take anything and everything, a school with liberal arts and a strong core curriculum would best fit your needs. If you never, ever want to take math again, then find a school with an open curriculum.
Also check to see if the school offers classes and majors in the subjects you love. Going to a high-ranked school will be pointless if you can’t follow your dreams of engineering the perfect iced tea bottle.
Podbelsek suggests looking into a college’s course offerings online to see if they have what you want. “Get on the website of the college and click under academics, start by looking at the whole list of majors, and if they have any special programs,” she says. “Go more in depth for the ones you might like. Get on that department website, look at the classes that are available. If you’re a Spanish major, do they have more Literature of Latin America or Literature of Spain?”
And don’t forget about class size and professors—will you be able to handle a year of lecture classes with 300+ students? Are the professors approachable, and do they hold office hours? How much time will you be spending with TAs? You can check out basic statistics on your school’s website to see the average class size, but talk to current students to get the real information on what it’s like to go to class at the school.
Marcy Williams, CEO of Commonwealth Management and Consulting, says you should consider your learning style when choosing a college. “Will you need more hands-on attention with your professor or maybe you enjoy blending into the crowd? If you currently go to a smaller high school, then maybe a large university is not the right atmosphere for you at this time.”