10 things to think about when picking a college

To help narrow your college choice from the hundreds of available schools down to a much more manageable 15-20 of the most promising options, jot down on a piece of paper your preferences in the following 10 categories and their importance to you.  Then, make a list of schools that match most or all of what you wrote down.

  1. Demographics - Are you more interested in a public or a private school?  (Private schools tend to be smaller, usually religiously based schools that tend to cost more but may also offer a more unique, flexible program with more scholarship options).  How far away are you willing to live from home?  Would you prefer a more urban or rural landscape?  Do you want to attend a big school or a small one?
  2. Career Resources - Some schools with great academic reputations suffer from poor career placement resources.  Likewise, other schools with not-so-great academic reputations feature a number of very successful alumni thanks to their great career services.  Think about how important career assistance is to you, and always consider alumni job placement statistics before selecting a school.
  3. Internship/Externship/Mentor Opportunities - Many campuses are beginning to offer new opportunities for one-on-one relationships with professors or professionals in the field.  These relationships not only provide a terrific learning opportunity, but also the ability to network and build necessary connections for success.
  4. Quality of Professors  - A small, local school may feature a number of Nobelaureates (professors who have won Nobel prizes and are very well regarded in their fields) who came to the school simply because they liked the area or wanted to return to their home town.  Don't assume that just because a school is small or has only local influence that the quality of its faculty is poor.
  5. Programs of Study - If you already have an area of interest, such as engineering, biology, music, or political science, make sure to look into the quality of each of those programs too.  Just because a certain Ivy league school that is ranked in the top 10 overall colleges offers a degree in psychology does not necessarily mean that it has a better psychology program than a lower-ranked state college that specializes in that area.  Think of the majors you are most interested in and read the statistics on each school's ranking in those specific areas as well.
  6. Average Class Size - Class size will vary anywhere in between 3 students and 300 students.  While there tends to be a correlation between the size of the school and average class size, this is not always the case.  If you prefer more individual attention and one-on-one interaction with professors, ask about the college's average class size.  Also remember that class size tends to be much larger in the first few years of study while a student is still working on his or her general education.  Watch out for schools that misleadingly lower their average class size statistics by averaging their seminar offerings with other classes.
  7. Academic Assistance  - While you may not have needed extra help during high school, it is expected that you will seek outside aid in college.  Some schools offer full, free, on-campus tutoring opportunities (which also makes for great student employment as you reach upper division status).
  8. Commitment to Technology - Even if you plan to bring your own computer to college, schools that offer a large amount of public computers for student use demonstrate their commitment to the use of technology.  It is especially important if you are interested in areas such as engineering or biotechnology that you learn about what kinds of labs and research centers are on campus.
  9. Athletics, Student Organizations, and the Greek System - If you plan to play a sport, have interests in certain areas or belonged to a club in high school you want to continue into college, or want to join a Fraternity or Sorority, it is important to find out what opportunities are available in this area.  Ask the division and ranking of the team in the sport you want to play.  Find out how many clubs are available, what kind of funding they receive, and what it would take to start your own.  Ask how many students are active in Greek life.
  10. Chances of Admission - It is important to stay realistic with your expectations.  Find out the school's 25th and 75th percentiles in GPA and SAT score (the thresholds of the top 25% and the bottom 25% of admitted students).  Generally, numbers above the 75th percentile in both areas represents a very good chance of admission, numbers between the 75th and 25th percentile a decent chance, and numbers below the 25th percentile a slim chance.  Though other 'soft' factors such as student involvement and overcoming adversity may alter this a bit.

By determining your likes and dislikes and organizing their importance, you will be able to much more easily target schools which match your preferences.  Use this list to help organize your college search and help you when asking questions of admissions officers.

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