Searching for where you want to attend college can be quite daunting. As a senior, you receive countless pamphlets and envelopes about universities from all around the country. So how do you narrow it down, or where do you even start? Every student seeks different things from their university, but there are universal pillars of the college experience that are important to consider when beginning your search.
Here are some tips on what to look for in a university so you can find the best fit possible.
1) Think about your interests now.
Your college career isn’t too far away, so the classes and activities that are most important to you now will likely be related to what you are involved in or study in college. Think about what your favorite classes have been throughout high school. Also, think about why you loved those classes. Did you like English class because you love to write or because you liked the books you read? If it was the writing, maybe you are interested in creative writing rather than comparative literature.
Look for universities that have majors in the areas you are most interested in. Remember, you may change your mind once you get to college, so it is also important to see if a school has other areas of study that sound exciting or intriguing to you.
2) Look for other resources from the university that will enhance your college experience and provide the opportunities you are seeking.
Your academic experience in college will be dependent on more than just your classes. Opportunities such as studying abroad and conducting research in your field of study may also be important to you.
If you’re interested in studying abroad, go to the university’s study abroad website and explore what types of programs they have. Are there opportunities for semester-long study and summer study? Do all major types have the opportunity to go abroad? Sometimes studying in the sciences and studying abroad are not always compatible. So, if you want to be a biology major and want to study abroad, make sure to find universities where both are possible.
In addition to studying abroad, undergraduate research in all fields can enhance your degree outside of the classroom. Explore the university’s website and see what types of research are ongoing in the departments you’re interested in. Also, look to see if there are programs to help you find these opportunities when you first get there (you can google undergraduate research and the name of the university). Some schools even have grant programs that will give you funding to investigate your own ideas.
3) Consider the size of the university.
Students can have very different college experiences depending on the size of the university they attend. Consider the size of your high school – does it feel too big or too small?
If you don’t like being in a graduating class of only 80 people but enjoy one-on-one interactions with your teachers, look at medium-sized universities, or larger schools with honor colleges where you would have a larger student body but smaller class sizes.
If you prefer small, tight-knit communities, consider a small university of around 2,000 undergraduate students, which would likely provide you with a similar environment to a small high school. Conversely, maybe you are seeking a drastic change from your high school to your college experience and are curious about a much larger university.
Regardless of your preferences, let your experiences in your hometown community inform the size of the university that would be the best fit for you.
4) Location isn’t everything, but it is important.
While college is primarily about your academic experience, it is also where you will be living for four years. Thus, the location should play a role in your selecting a college. Identify what you do or do not like about where you live, whether it is the size of the city, the geographic location, or any other factors. If you have grown up in a small city or town and are very happy in that environment, then a big university sprawled out across a large metropolis may be a difficult or unwelcome transition.
Additionally, consider how important it is for you to be able to travel home and see your family, and how frequently. If your family is your primary source of support and you want to visit home for every break and holiday, then look at universities that would allow you to do this. You could also consider universities nearby other family members who could offer the same type of support while you are in college.
5) What kind of community does the university offer?
When looking at universities, it is easy to forget that you are not just choosing a school, you are also choosing your community for the next four years. Think about your values and if they align with those at the universities you are exploring. If possible, seek out students to talk to and ask questions about their student life experience. You can do this either by visiting the university, seeking out alumni in your hometown, or emailing the admissions office and asking to be put in contact with a student ambassador.
Think about the types of leadership opportunities on campus, whether it be through Residence Life, volunteering, Greek organizations, sports teams, etc. Does the environment feel like a place where you would thrive? Would you feel welcomed into the community?
Being a part of your campus community can play a large role in your happiness and success as a student. Being well integrated with your peers will lead you to be more involved and more leadership opportunities, enriching your overall college experience.
A final word of advice
Each of these factors is just a piece of the puzzle when searching for the college that will best fit your needs. It is up to you to prioritize what you need to be successful and happy at your future university. Consider what is important to you but also don’t be afraid to challenge yourself! Whether it is attending a university far away from where you grew up or one whose size contrasts what you’re accustomed to, you can take advantage of going to college as an opportunity for new experiences and new challenges that will shape your future and yourself.
Alice is a senior at Emory University, pursuing a B.S. in Biology and minor in Dance and Movement Studies. As a tutor, she works to develop critical and analytical thinking skills with students. She believes it is crucial to teach a thorough understanding of the material rather than formulaic memorization. She believes in paying careful attention to the ways students learn to then utilize their skills to help them succeed.