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While the college process is hard, deciding which college to attend once all is said and done is sadly no easier. There are lots of different factors to take into account, from the distance of the college from your home to the availability of campus housing, to even more nebulous and difficult to pin down ideas like “fit.”

 

How do you know when a college is right for you? And what if you end up making the wrong decision? We can’t tell you exactly which college to attend, but we can offer you advice on which questions to ask yourself when it comes to choosing a college. Keep reading for a list of questions to ask yourself before deciding on a college!

 

 

Am I Happy With the Location?

Location is extremely important when choosing a college. There is no question that where your school is located will affect your experience in terms of your social life, extracurricular activities, your academic life, your housing situation, and more.

 

On one hand, being in a large city can be an advantage because there are more opportunities socially and professionally. You can meet lots of different people, apply for jobs and internships nearby, and even connect with any niche communities you might be a part of.

 

At the same time, being in a big city can also be very distracting, and not to mention expensive— after all, you came to college to learn, so you don’t want to end up spending all of your time (and money) off-campus and in the city. There are also other factors to consider, such as raised costs of living within a larger city, which might affect your housing or food costs.

 

A more isolated community, on the other hand, might encourage you to be a more active part of your college campus. You might become more tight-knit with your community, connect with your professors, and make more friends at your school. However, living far from a larger city can feel isolating and can be frustrating later on when it comes time to search for jobs and internships.

 

You should also factor in how far from home the campus is — could you come home for a weekend if you needed to? Family means different things for everyone, so be sure to assess how living far away or close to your family will affect your college experience.

 

 

Can I Afford It?

Unless you are extremely lucky, finances will likely affect which college you are able to attend. Of the colleges you were accepted to, be sure to consider which ones offered you financial aid, and which ones didn’t.

 

For the schools that are offering less financial help than you expected or needed, how much money would you need to come up with in loans or scholarships to make it work? And would your experience at this school be worth going into debt for?

 

You should also ask yourself whether or not you received other scholarships or other sources of funding. Be sure to think carefully about the cost of each given school and how it would affect your life in the future.

 

For more help navigating the world of scholarships and financial aid, check out these blog posts:

 

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letters

Can I Appeal My Financial Aid Award?

How to Evaluate, Compare, and Leverage Financial Aid

 

 

Are the Academics Consistent With My Goals/Learning Style?

When choosing a college, be sure to focus on the academic environment of the college you are considering. Think about the programs you might be choosing —you don’t have to decide on a major right away, but if your dream is to be a psychologist and one of the schools you are deciding on has a top psychology program, then this should definitely play into your decision.

 

Consider whether or not your potential major(s) would be large or small programs — would you get enough individualized attention? Or would you get lost in a giant program?

 

You should also think about your own learning style – do you prefer large lecture halls or smaller classrooms? Do you do best talking in discussion section and writing papers, or do you like problem sets and more quantitative work? Perhaps you’re a mix of the two — no matter how you prefer to learn, be sure to ask yourself whether or not a given college will offer you a fulfilling academic experience.

 

If you’re really stuck when asking this question, consider meeting with a professor from one of the universities or trying to sit in on a class on campus — you might be surprised by what you discover!

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Is There a Strong Campus Community?

Ask yourself what kind of college experience you would like to have outside of the classroom — would you like to join extracurriculars? Which ones? Do you want to try having a leadership position? Would the college campus you’re considering allow you to to do these things?

 

What about campus events/traditions? Are these important to you, and do the colleges you are applying to have a strong sense of tradition?

 

Is it a commuter school? Do students primarily live on or off campus? Are there locations available for students to gather and socialize? A popular coffee shop or a campus student center might be good examples of this — these are also very important spots to scope out when you do your campus visits!

 

You should also consider how you yourself will contribute to this campus community. What do you have to share with your peers, and what do you hope that they will share with you?

 

 

Would I Mesh Well With the Students?

It is important to feel a sense of belonging when you are in college, and the best way to gain this sense is through your fellow students.

 

When you visit campus, try to get a sense of the students, their values, their backgrounds, their socializing habits. Would you fit in there? What would you gain from being a part of this community?

 

Other important social questions include: what is the social scene like there? Is it a “party school?” What is the culture of drinking/drugs on campus, and does this mesh well with your own values and goals?

 

You should also consider how the level of stress on campus would affect your social life — is there a “stress culture” on campus? You understandably may not know the answers to all of these questions, as you are not a student there yet. One of the best ways to get a sense of the student body of a school is to stay overnight on campus. If you happy to know anyone who attends one of the schools you are considering, it might also be a good idea to meet with them and ask for them to speak honestly about their experience.

 

Take a look at these blog posts for tips on overnight stays and campus visits:

 

Parents: Should Your Student Participate in an Overnight Admission Visit?

College Visits: When (and If) to Make Them

How to Make the Most of a Campus Visit

 

 

Would I Be Happy?

The last question that you should ask yourself before choosing a college is a little less specific, but it’s arguably the most important question there is: Is this school the right fit for you? Would you be happy there?

 

It’s often hard to answer this question before you have fully experience life as a student at a certain school but deep down in your gut, how do you feel when you think about attending a given college? Does it feel right? Don’t panic if you don’t know the answer yet. You might just need more time or you might truly not know. Deep down, though, you should try to trust your gut instinct.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s not easy to choose the right college, but by asking yourself the right set of questions, you can limit the chance of choosing the wrong place. It’s important not to get caught up in questions of prestige or reputation, rather, you should be thinking about what the best school is for you.

 

Think about academics, financial aid, distance from home, and the social scene on campus. Ask yourself if you would be happy and if you would fit in, and finally, trust your gut! You probably already know the answer, you just might be surprised to find out what it is.

 

You should also consider checking out CollegeVine’s College Application Guidance Program! The program will help you find the best school for you based on your chances and fit, and it will help you prepare for filling out the common application, writing your essays, and even college interviews!

 

Links to more blog posts on choosing a college:

 

Choosing a College: How to Get Started

Tips For Choosing the Best Fit College

Should Student-Teacher Ratio Matter When I’m Choosing a College?

Should Greek Life Matter When Choosing a College?

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Devin Barricklow

Devin Barricklow

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).
Devin Barricklow