Anderson Building at Hamline on a warm sunny day; Photo taken by Anna Heckmann.
Touring potential colleges ranks amongst dealing with car salesmen and house hunting. It can be overwhelming. Colleges start to all sound the same, their programs and clubs seem unoriginal. Everyone seems to be way too excited as your mind starts to become numb to all the information that is being thrown at you. Whether you’re just starting to look into higher education or thinking of transferring, here are a couple of things you should look out for.
Academics are why you come to college. Tours are put into place to sell you to their way of life and to spin every aspect of their campus into an exciting innovation, so don’t be afraid to question every aspect of their academic programs. If you have a specific major(s) you’re excited to study, then make sure they have enough to keep you excited throughout your years there. Do they have enough updated equipment to keep up with the outside world and to make a challenging program? Is there a variety of classes that sound interesting to you? Does the program allow you to specialize in a specific area of your field, such as advanced courses, along with allowing you to spread out and get a feel for every aspect of your major’s department? All of these questions are important and will allow you to feel like you are getting the most out of your college experience when you graduate. Be leery of college departments that are “new” and can “grow with you”, for those programs may not keep you as engaging as you would like them to be, and may allow you to finish all that your department as to offer before your senior year. Departments who have been founded for less than seven years can also force you to do way more leg work for internships and opportunities on campus such as organizations and experience. Programs need participating students to grow and thrive, so remember that when you are looking at academics, ask whether the department you wish to go into is the right fit for you, and whether you are the right fit for the department. The best way to do that is to get a meeting with a department head when you go on tour. They will be able to answer all of your questions and tell you the best opportunities that their program holds.
Organizations can be a great way to beef up your resume and gain experience while you are in college. Many organizations need students to work on their marketing, social media, accounting, programming and much more. Whatever your major is, you should be able to find organizations and campus jobs that fit your interests. Extracurricular can be great for experience and also socialization. If your college can’t provide anything for you besides their classes to put on your resume, then they aren’t seeing to all of your needs. While you tour, feel free to ask about your interests. Even if it is knitting and watching movies, you should be able to find it or at least feel comfortable within your college of your choice to start whatever club you would like to spin it as a skill for your future employers.
The college of your choice should want you as much as you want them. If you need financial support they should be willing to provide it for you. Worrying about money and whether you can make another payment next semester for classes can affect your health and academics. You shouldn’t feel like you owe anything to your college. You are paying for a service, but that doesn’t mean that you should feel burdened with exuberant amount of debt or that the more expensive a college is, the better the education it can give you. Community colleges provide just as amazing academics as private colleges. No matter what just remember that you shouldn’t feel like you don’t have the right to ask for your college for a scholarship and to not feel like you can’t walk for another college that did offer you better compensations.
Do you want a large or a small college? Do you want to be close to the city or in a smaller town? Do you want there to be campus events during the weekends or do you want most people to go home during the weekend? All of these questions are up to your personality. It also depends if you are going to a college out of state, or if you’re close to home. Do you have a car on campus? If you don’t you might want a variety of restaurants and stores (more than 3 of each) in walking distance around campus. If you stay on campus during the weekends and don’t have a vehicle, you might want events on campus to distract you from homework. Small colleges can allow you to know your professors more and make programs feel more personalized, but they can also have a high school feel with gossip and having the same people in all of your classes. Large colleges can allow for more class options and organizations. All and all you’ll need to think about your own personality and what, socially and mentally, is the best for you.
When you are looking for a college, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether or not you can see yourself at said college. Can you see yourself walking around, going to specific classes? Are you excited about going? Are there down sides? And when in doubt, go with your gut. Only you know what’s best for you.