5 things to consider when choosing a college

I love researching and planning things. Like so much so that I have planned too many “perfect” trips to Disney World that I’m never going to take. So it should come as no surprise that I started researching what colleges I was interested in during my freshman year of high school. At first what I was considering when looking at schools was what they had to offer in terms of amenities: how big were the dorms, did they have good food options, and did they have a cool looking rec center and library.

Graphic saying five things to consider when choosing a college set over a picture of two young women sitting on the sidewalk on a college campus

As I progressed through high school, however, the things that I cared about changed. I wanted to be far enough away from home that I wouldn’t be tempted just to stay there all the time. But I also wanted to be close enough that I could feasibly come home any weekend I wanted. The school had to offer my chosen major (and back up choices). I also still cared about dorm size but I was more focused on the bathroom situation. Communal bathrooms sound like a horror story waiting to happen. I’ve seen Pitch Perfect, I did not want some random girl to walk in on me while I was singing and shampooing along to “Titanium.” (Not that I can sing anywhere near as well as Anna Kendrick but you get the point.) 

 

So I changed my view on what was important. And for everyone, what’s important to them will be different. However, I think these are five major things to consider when deciding what college to go to. 

1. Distance from home

For me, I knew because of scholarships I had to stay in-state in Indiana. For others, that may not be a big consideration, or you may really just want to go out of state. Either way, narrowing down where you want to go will help. If you’re going in-state how far away from home are you willing to go. I personally think going at least an hour away is a good choice. You don’t want to be tempted to go home a lot during your first semester. If you are going out of state, what places interest you? Are you really comfortable being that far away from home?

2. Major Availability

A lot of schools did not offer my original major. So that also helped narrow down the field of potential schools. It’s super easy to look up what majors each school offers on their websites. You could also ask any mentors you look up to like high school teachers in the related subject, and your advisor, what schools they know are good for what career you’re considering. If still undecided, you should do some career research. You can take some aptitude quizzes so you start to get a feel for what you are suited for. Then make sure that your school has both your chosen major and even some backup choices. This is important because ⅓ of college students end up changing their major according to data from 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education. 

3. Size

This was a big one for me. At the beginning of high school, I wanted to go to a big school. I wanted to blend in and not be noticed too much (thank you social anxiety.) After a while, however, I realized that I felt even more anxious about a giant campus filled with a ton of people. I did not want huge distances between classes and my dorm. Having a majority of my classes being in giant lecture halls where I wouldn’t know my professors sounded terrible. And even worse, I could have paid a ton of money just to be taught by teaching assistants. As I got older I realized that I actually wanted an easily walkable campus and smaller class sizes so that I would have to participate.

I suggest that you really consider who you are as a student. Are you an extrovert who will have no issues making friends in a sea of crowds and going to office hours? Or are you more introverted and want to be able to more easily make a connection with your professors and classmates? Those will determine what size of school you would be the most comfortable at.

4. Amenities

Now don’t get me wrong, all of those previous things are super important. They helped me narrow down my options for where I wanted to go. But to be honest, if you asked me how I chose to go to USI, my answer would be that I loved the bathrooms. Seriously though, the dorms at my school are awesome. The rooms are big enough. I had an ensuite bathroom with a toilet and shower that I only had to share with one other person, and we had our own little kitchenette/living room area.

Now those nice dorm rooms came with some trade-offs in other places. My school does not have very good dining options at all. We don’t have a football team, and they’re just now building a pool. But for me, I knew I would spend a lot of time in my dorm, (and I don’t care about football at all) so that’s what I focused on. For you it may be the exact opposite, figure out what is important to you. 

5. Price

I knew I couldn’t get out of this list without talking about price. For most people, it is the number one factor when deciding where to go. For me, however, scholarships covered my tuition as long as I stayed in-state. It also helped that my school is one of the cheapest four-year schools in Indiana. Prices can be scary, I get that. I am pretty frugal in most areas of my life. But make sure you’re going to a school that you love despite the price tag. If it’s meant to be you can find a way to make it work out. (I’m totally not invalidating your feelings about money, the idea of student loans terrifies me. I just believe you should weigh the pros and cons of a school without giving too much weight to the price at first.)

So that’s basically it. You should consider the distance from home, do they have your major, the campus size, what do amenities look like, and finally the price. One last thing is that I really believe visiting the campuses matter. I had two schools at the top of my list when I started visiting them, USI and IU. We visited USI first and I knew right away that I was supposed to go there. I hated my tour at IU. That really helped me realize that I could and should go to USI, which checked more boxes, despite making me a little nervous being far away from home.

I know taking a tour might be difficult right now due to miss rona sticking around. Still, virtual tours are a good baseline. And if the campuses you’re looking at are going to be open this fall, consider putting on a mask and just walking around outside on your own. You can definitely get a good feel of the place that way, especially if there are students around.

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