How to Choose Which Colleges to Apply to

Senior year is an exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming. With literally thousands of colleges and universities across the country and around the world, it can be difficult for students to determine which schools are worth applying to. Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin the college search and work towards polishing your application list:

(Related: How to Research Colleges)

1. Location

For many students, leaving home to go to college is the first time that they will be living on their own. It’s important to choose a school in a location where you feel that you can not only study and work but also thrive. Do you prefer big cities or small towns? Do you like the countryside or urban communities? These are all important factors to think about when deciding where you want to go to school.

Big cities are great for students always in search of new activities and opportunities, but small towns can offer the cozy comforts of tranquil life. However, some students might find big cities too overwhelming and small towns too confining. The best way to discover which option works best for you is to visit. Pick a large city and spend the day exploring colleges in the area. How does the feeling change as you move closer or further away from the city? How do other students feel about the location?

I find that for a lot of students, a middle of the road option is best. Choosing a college town that’s adjacent to a big city can provide the stability of a tight knit community combined with the allure of a bustling metropolitan area.

2. Campus Size

Along with the location of the school comes the question of the size of the campus. Would you prefer to be a face in the crowd in a large lecture hall? Or do you prefer the intimate setting of seminars and one-on-one contact with your instructors? Some students find value in either option.

The benefits of a large school include having a large community made up of several smaller diverse and vibrant communities. It can be very easy to find a subset of students with interests similar to yours in a way that might be more difficult at a smaller school. At large schools, there is always something happening and something to do.

Smaller schools, on the other hand, allow for more opportunities to develop closer relationships with other students and faculty members. For students who prefer a deeper level of familiarity where instructors know everyone by name, a smaller school might feel like a more appealing option.

3. Academic Programs & Major Choices

Don’t forget – you’re going to college to learn!

Amidst the hustle and bustle of campus clubs, football games, new friends, and roommates, it can be easy to forget the whole reason you’re going in the first place – to learn!

What are you interested in? What do you want your career to be? Start defining your career goals as early as possible, and begin researching schools that specialize in your field of study. However, at the same time be sure to cultivate a range of schools that provide many academic choices.

I always recommend against locking yourself into any one academic choice in the application stage. It’s not uncommon for students to change majors, and you want to make sure that your school has the resources to accommodate a variety of interests. I’ve seen students switch from Astrophysics to English, and from Engineering to Politics. They were only able to switch comfortably because they attended schools that offered a wide range of choices. Make sure to give yourself plenty of choices as well.

4. Specialized Programs

For students with unique needs such as Individualized Education Plans, religious requirements, or health and wellness concerns, it is essential to look into schools that provide these personalized resources. College is meant to be a time of growth and support, and many schools have programs set in place to accommodate student needs ranging from learning differences, disabilities, substance counseling, religious commitments and more. Stay tuned for a later post that looks deeper into these resources.

5. Community

What kind of person do you want to be? How will your school help get you there? The community you engage with during your college years will have a profound impact on your way of thinking and your ability to connect with others as you grow. This is a great time to meet new people with different backgrounds and interests. It is also an opportunity to develop valuable life skills and gain independence. The people you interact with in college will become your support system not only for the years you spend learning with them, but possibly even after graduation.

My recommendation is to seek out a vibrant and diverse environment with many unique life perspectives. You’ll have the chance to learn something new from people you’ve never met before, and likewise, you’ll have the chance to teach them something as well.

What do you look for when building your college list? Leave a comment below!

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