8 Things You May Not Think Of When Choosing a College
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
When choosing a college, you’re probably thinking about the academics first and foremost. It’s important, of course, that your chosen college has the major you want to pursue. You’re probably considering the prestige and the ranking of colleges as well. But there are other important factors to take into account, too. Here are eight important considerations you should weigh when choosing a college.
Getting involved with clubs and activities at school is a great way to meet people, as well as build your resume. Does the college offer activities that align with your interests? Are there opportunities to try something new? For example, perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance. Is there a dance group at the college that takes beginners, or can you take classes?
You should also think about how open the college is as far as letting you start something new. Will they let you establish a new club? What are the procedures for doing so?
Think about what types of activities are important to you. Does the college support your interests? Some types of activities you might consider joining include:
- Volunteer groups and opportunities for community service
- Cultural groups
- Event planning or bringing speakers to campus
- Student council
- Intramural or club sports
- Greek organizations
- Religious organizations
- Political groups
You’ll be living in this place for four years, so you need to make sure you’re comfortable. What is housing like? Are there mostly singles, doubles, suites? Which type of situation best suits your lifestyle?
If possible, try to see the inside of a dorm on a tour or visit. What are the rooms like? Are there common areas? Can you picture yourself there? If you have family obligations that might require you to live at home, will the college allow you to do so?
It’s a good idea to do an overnight visit to get an idea of campus life and see if you fit in. You’ll probably do so after you’ve been accepted, so you can compare schools and their housing situations to one another. Making these trips can allow you to truly experience the school.
3. Campus Vibe
You need to make sure you have a good fit with the school and community. Having a “fit” is one of the most important factors in choosing a college. Learn more about what this means in What Does It Mean to Fit with a College?.
It’s important to get a sense of what it’s like to be on campus. Where do people study? Where do students hang out?
Visiting a campus can help you get an idea of campus life. You want to know that you can picture yourself at the school. Pay attention to the parts you may not have considered, going beyond the tour and information session. For instance, you should find out where students spend time outside of class and what they do for fun.
To learn more about the “hidden” aspects of colleges you should consider, check out What Student Tours and Admissions Meetings Won’t Tell You About a College.
4. The Surrounding City
You won’t be spending all your time on campus. That’s why it’s important to find out what the surrounding area is like. See where students eat out, shop, and spend time. Think about whether this is an area where you’d be comfortable attending events and volunteering.
Along with the area’s general vibe, consider the safety. Is the area more urban or suburban? Would you feel safe going into the surrounding community? Does the school have safety measures for going off campus, such as college-sponsored transportation? These are all factors to take into account, since you’ll be spending four years there.
5. School Spirit
School spirit can give you an idea of how engaged students are with the school. It’s important to be dedicated to your college; not only will you enjoy it more, but you’ll get more out of your experience, too. Make sure students seem to truly like their college. How does the college engage students beyond the classroom? Are there events that promote school spirit?
Perhaps the college promotes school spirit through sports games, fairs, or parties. Learning about these events can give you an idea of what’s most important at the school. You should also find out how integral Greek life, sports, community service, and other key components are and if they align with your interests and values.
The cafeteria food may not be the greatest (but maybe it is). Along with gauging the quality of the food, you need to make sure it’s amenable to your allergies and dietary restrictions. For instance, if you keep Kosher, there needs to be an option for you.
Also consider: Are there multiple dining halls, or just one? Do all classes eat in the same dining halls, or are there some just for freshmen? Are you required to be on the meal plan? What kinds of meal plan options are there?
Since you may need a break from campus food on occasion, find out if there are cheap off-campus alternatives that students frequent.
Earlier, we discussed the importance of making sure the surrounding area is safe. The campus itself should be secure, too. Pay attention to where the dorms are located and what measures campus security takes to promote the safety of all students.
For instance, at my college, there were security guards posted at the entrance of every dorm, and students had to swipe their IDs at two different doors to get in. Not all colleges may be in the safest areas, so it’s important for the college to take measures to ensure the well-being of all students.
Safety extends to student services, because you need to maintain your health and well-being. Make sure there’s a good health and wellness center as well as a counseling center, in case you need to visit one.
8. Student Body
Other students will be the people with whom you interact the most in college. That’s why you need to make sure you fit in. What are the different personalities like? Does yours mesh with the others?
There are probably many perspectives and opinions, but you should share most basic values. Take into account factors that are particularly important. For instance, if your political beliefs are important to you, make sure they’re aligned with those of much of the student body. If religion is a strong factor, determine whether yours will be welcomed and celebrated at the school.
Diversity is another important factor to consider. Do the other students contribute to an environment that’s conducive to learning and growing? Learn about how diverse can impact your college experience in The Benefits of a Diverse Student Body in College.
The most important question you should ask yourself is: Can I picture myself as a member of the student body? Your gut instinct can go a long way in helping you decide if you will fit in.
Academics and prestige are important, but you should also make sure other aspects of college and campus life work for you. You’ll be spending four years here, so the school needs to align with your values and interests. Take these other factors into account when formulating your college list and making your final decision. You’ll thank yourself later.
To learn more about what you should consider when deciding on a college, read:
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.