Where Should You Go to College?

I know it’s hard to tell because of how hot it still is outside, but fall has arrived. The pumpkin spice and Halloween hype is back in full force, and midterms are fast approaching. And even though it feels like the school year just started, it’s already the season to start preparing for the transitions you may be planning for your next academic year.

Choosing a college to attend is a critical life decision, because four years is a long enough time on its own, and it’s possible you could be there even longer. Unless you’re a commuter student, you won’t just be going to school there - you’ll be living there, uprooting your entire life and making that place your new home for the next chapter of your life. Despite it being such a momentous decision, students are expected to decide somewhat blindly. If you’ve never lived there before, how can you be sure that it’s a place where you will thrive? I remember that question used to plague me when I was trying to choose where to transfer since the decision was purely a leap of faith.

Due to the harshly competitive atmosphere we live in, there’s a lot of pressure to attend the most prestigious school that you get accepted to. Whether you feel that pressure from peers, teachers, your own family or society in general, every student feels it at some point. But is that really the best factor to consider when choosing your future home for the next handful of years? I would argue that it’s not unless of course, academic prestige is what’s truly most important to you. Because above else, where you go to college should be your decision, and yours alone, because it’s your life and your future on the table. It can be helpful to ask for advice and let people that you care about weigh in on your options, but don’t let anyone make the decision for you.

I felt some pressure from my mom to go to UVA over VCU after being accepted to both, and I see her side of the argument. What Virginia parent wouldn’t want their kid to go to UVA? But I respectfully reminded her that my future self would be picking up the tab, so she didn’t have a fair say in the matter. I wasn’t dead set on VCU from the start though, because it was hard to resist the allure of a UVA acceptance — something that was so coveted at my high school. But after I spent a weekend or two at both campuses, I ultimately chose VCU because I preferred Richmond over Charlottesville.

Unless you’re positive that you’ll never be living off-campus, keep in mind that you’ll be more than just a student at a school, you’ll be a resident of a new city or town, especially after your freshman year. So, it’s not all about the school. You should consider what attracts you to the surrounding area, and how you see it potentially stimulating and benefitting you, because your personal happiness and level of comfort are far more important than the name of the institution printed on your degree.

If you’re applying to colleges this year, my advice is to make a list of all the schools you’re most interested in and try to visit them all, if possible. In my experience, shopping for a college is like shopping for jeans. You have to try it on first and see how it fits. A day trip or even a weekend obviously isn’t going to be a perfect simulation of how you’d settle in there, but it’ll give you a clearer idea than whatever was in your head.

For current college students that are mulling over that big question, “to transfer or not to transfer?” I have special advice just for you: do it. If you’re not happy where you are and you have a feeling you’d be happier somewhere else, go with your gut and trust that feeling. I know the thought of starting over in a new place can be formidable and overwhelming, but if you already did it once you can absolutely do it again. Odds are, you’ll be glad you did it in the end. And even if the grass isn’t much greener, it’s better to find out than to spend the rest of your academic career wondering about what could’ve been while you’re still unhappy with the way things are.


Image Credit: Noelle Abrahams