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What to Think About When Considering Colleges (Besides the Obvious)

Nothing lasts forever, and yes, that means not even high school. Even though it feels like a lifetime, the days of dealing with a repetitive schedule you have little to no control over are not permanent.

Graduation is right around the corner, and that means you’re about to dive into the next chapter of your life. Right now, you might be hunched over a desk and assembling a list of the colleges you want to apply to – or you might be panicking and feeling unsure about, well, everything. That’s perfectly understandable, too!

If college is your next big step, you’re probably wondering how to narrow down your choices when there are so many options out there. Considering the fact that the next few years of your life depend on this decision, it can feel terrifying to commit yourself to just one program and college, but rigorously planning your senior year and analyzing all the factors that come into play will ensure that you attend a college ideal for you and your goals.

Choosing a place that feels like home and an environment of complete happiness will contribute to your success and help you make the most out of these years. So, here are some things you should keep in mind when looking at colleges.

1. Rankings aren’t everything

Contrary to popular belief, rankings actually aren’t everything. Shocker, isn’t it? You might want to engross yourself in lists of the top colleges and most prestigious universities, but don’t let numbers divert you from all the options out there.

To an extent, rankings are helpful because they provide facts and statistics that make exemplary colleges stand out ­– but if a college isn’t making flashy headlines all the time, that doesn’t mean it’s substandard. It’s no secret that top-tier schools offer quality education, but there might be colleges out there better suited for you. For example, the most renowned university in your state might have an amazing academic program, but what if they don’t let you take a minor or live off campus, and that’s something you’d really been hoping to do?

Basically, you can use ranking tools for comparison, but don’t let them be the ultimate factor in this significant decision; it’s also vital to pay attention to other factors. At the end of the day, what matters is that you’re attending a place that feels like home—no matter what its position is on a list.

2. Have a back-up option

Life doesn’t always go according to plan, which is why it’s extremely important to keep your options open. Always, always broaden your horizons and consider other colleges as well.

Avoid applying to only one college even if you’re 150% sure you’ll get in. If (for any reason) you’re unable to attend the school that was your goal, you might find yourself confused, helpless and all out of options. To prevent this from happening, curate a list of reach, target and safety schools in order to have backup options if some aspect of your plan falls through. Such a relief, isn’t it?

3. Pay attention to academic factors

Aside from desired fields or majors, there are often other academic factors that students tend to overlook during their college hunts. If you’re still unsure about what you want to pursue (that’s totally cool!), you should consider applying to a college that offers a wide variety of options. To get a sense of this, go to the college’s website and browse their course catalog. See if they sound intriguing and if those are the classes you’d want to spend a few years indulging in.

Every school is different, so it’s important to figure out whether yours has everything you’re looking for, in advance. Some specific academic factors you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Public or private education
  • Opportunity to double major or minor
  • Online class options
  • Class size
  • Tutoring services
  • Study-abroad opportunities
  • Required courses for freshmen
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Scheduling options

These factors might make a huge difference to certain students, so it’s important to find out what your college offers. Ultimately, the goal by the time you graduate is for you to feel satisfied, accomplished and ready for what lies ahead. Pay attention to all the little things that matter to you, and you’ll do just fine.

4. Consider the location and environment

Your surroundings have an enormous impact on your college experience. Some have a preference for living in big cities and small towns, and others want to be saturated in nature instead of surrounded by skyscrapers. Those are things to consider as you apply to college. If you’ve always visualized yourself riding subways and basking in the electric vibes of urban cities like New York, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable attending a college in a rural area.

Distance from home is something to keep in mind as well. If you can’t bear to live without seeing your parents or childhood best friend every month, look at in-state schools that allow you to meet your favorite people regularly.

Ashley*, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, shares, “I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. I can’t imagine living without my loved ones or being away from my hometown, so when it was time for me to pick a college, I researched thoroughly and decided to apply to UTD! It’s in my city and has my dream program as well. I could not be happier!”

On the other hand, if you crave the freedom of moving to a brand-new location, out-of-state schools will definitely appeal to you.

A few other location aspects to consider:

  • Access to grocery stores and shopping
  • Nightlife
  • Safety of city
  • Weather and climate
  • Cost to visit home
  • Housing options

Jessica*, a student at the University of Southern California, mentions, “After living on the East Coast my entire life, I needed a change. After learning more about USC, I decided to apply here, and it’s safe to say that it has been my best decision by far; I am having the time of my life! Aside from the top-notch education, the warm and sunny climate has had a very positive effect on me, too. I feel very cheerful and energized throughout the day!”

Needless to say, the right atmosphere and vibes can truly help enhance your college experience by positively influencing your mood and even your likelihood to excel.

Related: 4 Ways Location Factors Into Your College Experience

5. Look into the student life

An important factor to keep in mind is the student life. Have you always been a fan of showing immense school spirit? Extracurricular activities, football games, annual traditions, Greek life – those are all programs you should know if you have access to because they’re huge recreational parts of college life.

Meredith*, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “I’m so glad I decided to apply to UT Austin. Personally, I love participating in extracurricular activities and getting involved, so I love attending a school that has many things to do. The atmosphere is always electric and buzzing! The student life makes my college experience special.”

6. Evaluate the cost

Arguably one of the most important factors that comes into play is the school’s cost, and understandably so. Luckily, several schools offer generous amounts of financial aid. In addition, many even offer scholarships (including full-ride scholarships). If you want and/or need these things in order to be able to attend college hassle-free, research and find schools that provide them. Look into the procedures as well.

Aside from tuition fees, make sure to consider other expenses as well. You might want to think about the costs of visiting your family or living in a certain neighborhood. Analyze these things beforehand in order to have a smooth college experience.

7. Listen to yourself

This one might seem like a no-brainer (we know), but in the midst of trying to find the perfect college, students sometimes don’t pay attention to all the other little factors that come into play. Though you should obviously consider important things like your college offering your desired major, think about other aspects as well. Not every factor might be your top priority, but all of them play one role or another in affecting your overall college experience! Some might even be deal-breakers for certain students, which is why it’s crucial to remember your personal objectives and preferences.

Maybe you took seven challenging AP classes in high school and need to make sure your credits get transferred (we totally understand); maybe you want to be reassured that you’ll find a job as soon as you graduate (we get that, too). Everyone has their own priorities, so find out what matters the most to you.

Additional factors you might want to consider:

  • Career assistance
  • Internship opportunities
  • Counseling
  • Medical help
  • Meal plans
  • On-campus facilities
  • Campus size
  • Population diversity
  • Transportation options

Overall, does this school have everything that you prefer and deem necessary for a great time at college? Listen to yourself, and you’ll make the most out of these next few years.

Approaching this new phase of your life while the a-word (adulthood, that is) constantly looms like a cloud can be very daunting. But it can be equally as exciting with the right amount of consideration and planning.

Perhaps the most crucial question to ponder upon is the following: what will make you happy? Ask yourself where you’ll receive the best overall experience ­– one that will pave the way for the life you’ve always wanted and offer a glimpse into your future. You should feel satisfied, prepared and one step closer to achieving your goals as you face the endless possibilities of the world. Soon enough, you’ll be embarking on an exhilarating adventure and making exciting memories.

Get ready for this journey; some of the greatest years of your life await you!

*Names have been changed

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Adenah Furquan has always had a knack for writing and dreaming big. Currently on the verge of graduating from her online high school, she plans on going to college and pursuing careers in the fields of computer science and journalism. Some of her experience includes being a staff writer for Affinity Magazine, a high school ambassador for Her Campus, and an international ambassador for National Honor Society. When she's not contemplating life, finishing a calculus assignment, or thinking about changing the world, Adenah can be found binge-watching cheesy rom-coms, visiting cute cafés, taking photos of everything in her sight, and listening (and crying) to indie music.
Gina was formerly the Beauty & Culture Editor at Her Campus, where she oversaw content and strategy for the site's key verticals. She was also the person behind @HerCampusBeauty, and all those other glowy selfies you faved. She got her start in digital media as a Campus Correspondent at HC Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she graduated in 2017 with degrees in English and Theater. Now, Gina is an LA-based writer and editor, and you can regularly find her wearing a face mask in bed and scrolling through TikTok.