Ask a Collegiette: Choosing the Right College for You

Are you a smart and savvy pre-collegiette looking for answers to some of your most personal questions about college? You know, the ones about boys, classes, roommates and parties that your school’s guidance office can’t help you with? Jen is here to answer those questions! Whatever your concern, she’ll do her best to help you so you can make sure you don’t just survive college, but rock it!

How do you prepare to choose a college that would suit yourself well? – Julianna

Julianna,

I don’t know if I can give you a simple answer to this question since it’s pretty multifaceted, but I’m going to try my best!

To start the whole process, go to a local college fair to get an idea of what some of your options are. Once you know more about certain schools, ask yourself three necessary questions to get your personal search going:

First, start simple and ask yourself, “Do I want to stay in state for college, or am I willing to travel out of state for my education?” This helps you to have a basis for how you’ll search for schools. When I was deciding on a college, this was one of the first decisions I made. I knew I would be perfectly content traveling out of state, but I didn’t want to be so far away that it would take longer than a full day to drive back home, so I settled on a school about eight hours from where I’m from.

Next, find out if potential schools offer your major. This is pretty important; clearly if you want to study journalism, for example, you’re not going to attend a school that doesn’t offer it! If you’ll be starting school undeclared, does the school you’re considering have a wide variety of majors, or do they have any majors you’re interested in or would consider? Keep in mind that a large majority of freshmen change their college majors, so make sure your school is flexible when it comes to changing your major in case you decide to do so. Some universities also require you to apply for specific schools related to your major within the university. Attending a university that does this may not be the best option for you if you aren’t completely sure what you want to do, or if you plan to have a degree with multiple different varieties of studies.

Finally, you need to ask yourself if you can afford the schools you have considered. Remember: Don’t let the sticker price of a school’s tuition scare you away, since you can apply for financial aid! At the same time, you don’t want to go to a school you know you’ll never be able to afford even with financial aid, since having extremely large amounts of student debt can be a scary reality. Just keep an open mind about your situation, and find out the amount of financial aid schools will offer you based on your FAFSA to get a better idea of what you’ll be paying. The next step would then be to factor in finances for traveling back and forth to your school if you’ll be out of state in order to make sure you have enough gas money and resources to travel as needed.

After you’ve gone through these three points and narrowed down a couple schools, then you’ll be able to start scheduling campus visits. Finally, all of the years you’ve spent dreaming about picturesque campuses ever since you saw how pimped out PCA was in Zoey 101 (and that was only a boarding school!) are finally coming around! This is definitely the more fun and exciting part of choosing a school; you’ll often get some free swag and you’ll be able to decide whether or not you can picture yourself walking around the campus every day. To make the most of your visit, bring a list of questions to ask your tour guide as well as a camera to take photos of the campus so you can look back on it later. You should also take notes throughout the tour of the various aspects of the campus you liked and didn’t like to assist you in making a decision later on. Make sure your notes include observations other than the fact that there are a ton of attractive guys on campus!

If you can’t visit a campus for whatever reason, visit their website and see if they offer a virtual tour on the site so that you can get a glimpse into what the school is like. Even though this is a great resource, nothing compares to visiting a campus in person, so make it a priority to go and visit. Since my college is out of state and I had to figure out a plan to get there, I wasn’t able to visit the school until October of my senior year of high school. Thankfully, when I arrived I felt right at home, and so once I got accepted early action in November, I knew it was where I needed to be.

I’m going to use an always-acceptable Steve Jobs quote to help you to know whether or not a college is suited to you during a visit: “If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.” The only one who can decide whether or not a school is suited for you is, well, you! Don’t overthink the process too much; trust your instincts and allow them to help guide you towards the best school.

Despite your best preparation efforts, you might find that a school still doesn’t “fit” you well even after you get there. If this happens to you and you’re truly struggling to continue there (for good reasons), you can always transfer to another college if you need to. It’s not ideal, but don’t ever feel like you’re trapped at a school once you’ve made your choice. College is supposed to be fun and one of the biggest investments you’ll make into your future, so don’t settle for anything less than amazing!

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