Choosing a college or university can be an intimidating process. The good news is that California has more than 200 colleges and universities.
While no college is perfect, if you consider all the factors that are important to you, you will have a much better chance of finding the best match. One school might be the best based on location, another on cost and another on its academic programs.
Know what you are looking for in a college
Knowing yourself is important when choosing a college. Your abilities, interests, attitudes and personality play an important role in your decision. A good way to start your college search is to think in broad terms rather than immediately focus on specific schools. Taking the time to set your priorities is essential.
Know your personal and academic profile
Things to consider when looking for college matches
1. Academic Environment
When assessing the academic environment of the college or university, ask yourself the following questions:
• Will this college admit me?
• Have I satisfied the course or other academic requirements of the college?
• Are my test scores in the appropriate range for this school?
• Are the standards appropriate for my abilities and interests?
• What courses are required of all freshmen?
• When will I have the opportunity to study with full professors rather than graduate students?
• What are the typical class sizes both for first year students and upper class students?
• What is the availability of counseling or tutorial programs in the event that I experience academic difficulty?
• Where do graduates of this college attend graduate school?
• What kinds of professions and careers do they enter after graduation?
Most students change their majors at least once during their college careers. Some courses of study are not available at the high school level and other fields that seem unappealing to you now may become much more exciting as you become more involved. However, you probably have a general idea of at least two or three areas that interest you, and you may want to consider how strong those departments are at the colleges you are considering. Also of concern is the library and laboratory facilities or other special equipment required by your area of interest.
3. Geographic Location
For some students, attending a college close to home is a priority while others choose to be far away. Perhaps as important as the distance from home is the type of college community.
• Do you yearn for a peaceful academic environment in a small, intellectual town?
• Do you prefer the stimulation and excitement of a large urban campus?
• Is there a particular part of the country where you have always wanted to live?
• Do you prefer a location where you have relatives or close friends?
• If coming home for holidays and long weekends is important, are distance, transportation costs and availability prohibitive?
4. Size of Campus
A large campus(15,000-50,000+ students) may offer a variety of academic opportunities including elaborate facilities and large libraries, as well as the stimulation of a large faculty, graduate students and undergraduates. However, housing may be more difficult to obtain, more courses may be taught by graduate students, lecture sessions may be very large, and opportunities for leadership in campus organizations may be diminished.
A medium-sized school(5,000-15,000 students) may offer fewer majors and more modest facilities than a large school, but also may offer greater opportunities to participate in the activities of your choice and to be integrated into a compatible crowd.
Small schools(under 5,000 students) usually offer smaller, more personal classes, earlier opportunities to take classes with well-known professors, and more chances for participation and leadership in campus activities. However, facilities may be limited and options for activities and diversity reduced.
Calculate what it costs to attend your selected college for a year. Also calculate your college costs on a four-year basis. (Many students take four-and-one-half or five years to graduate; calculate the cost of the extra time.) Identify the ways to pay these costs. Examine the college’s track record of providing scholarships, loans and other financial assistance. In addition, look at recent financial history (e.g., does the college raise fees annually, and if so, by how much?). Housing, food, books and the cost of participating in extra-curricular activities are part of the college expense as well. Also calculate the cost of travel to and from home. If the college offers scholarships, grants, loans or employment programs that can assist you in financing your education, learn the application deadlines and which programs are available to freshmen. Ask if the college assists with finding part-time work on campus or locally.
6. Housing and Dining Options
Some college students prefer the independence of having an apartment and being self-sufficient. For others, a large, coed residence hall with 100 students on each floor sounds like an ideal way to make new friends. Still others may prefer a smaller, single-sex residence hall with the chance to get to know a few people well. All of these options exist, many on the same campus.
On many campuses, sororities and fraternities provide much of the housing. While you may want to join a sorority or fraternity, also find out what housing exists for those who choose not to join, particularly at the junior or senior levels. College is probably your first real opportunity to be “on your own” with more responsibility for your actions than you may have had in high school. College can provide a wonderful transition to independent adult living, so use the housing options available to make that transition in the best way for you.
7. Health and Other Services
Most colleges provide basic physical and psychological health services to students. Some may have full service hospitals on campus or have affiliated medical schools which provide such services. Others may have a simple infirmary and refer complicated illnesses and injuries to local physicians. Find out what services are provided and which will require additional payments. If you have particular health problems or physical limitations, make a more thorough inquiry of services available. Consider the counseling facilities, too. Are quality services readily available?
Colleges also provide a number of services to help students with special needs compensate for their disabilities. Support services range from minimal support to comprehensive programs depending on individual assessment of students’ needs. Tutoring, writing and mathematics labs, and career guidance are generally available to all students. Investigate the nature of these services.
8. Student Life
Explore the atmosphere on the campus you are considering:
• Is it liberal, conservative, homogeneous or diverse? Are you comfortable with this atmosphere as well as with the make-up of the student body?
• Do the students appear friendly and enthusiastic about their work?
• Can you observe how students and faculty relate to each other?
• Are you satisfied with the recreational facilities and social activities offered?
• Are sports facilities adequate to meet your interests? Are they available to all or just to athletes or team members?
• How does the social life operate?
• Are there sororities and fraternities, and if so, what part do they play in social life on campus? Are there social opportunities for those who choose not to join?
• Does the campus “clear out” on weekends?
• Are there special interest groups in areas that please you?
• Are activities like the newspaper, debate or the ceramic shop available to all students or just to those majoring in related areas?
• Can you find opportunities for political expression?
• Is the college affiliated with a religion, and if so, how strongly?
• Is that an affiliation with which you are comfortable? Is attendance at religious services required?
• Can you attend religious services of your preference easily?
Making a Final List
Once you have researched and obtained answers to your questions about the schools that interest you, your next step is choosing a college:
• Summarize what you want from your college experience.
• List the colleges which meet your criteria including all the items on your summary as well as admission standards, geographic location and affordability.
• Organize your list according to the colleges you most want to attend and the ones that are most likely to accept you.
At most of the four-year accredited colleges in the country, the difficulty of being admitted is governed by a simple principle of supply and demand. If a college has a large number of applicants, but only has to accept a small number to fill its freshman class, the college can be highly selective. Conversely, if the college must take most of its applicants to fill the spaces available, the institution cannot be very selective. College selectivity is not directly correlated to the college’s academic integrity. A college’s selectivity may not be important to you when you make your choice. The best college for you matches your desires, goals, objectives, abilities and development.
Where to Find Answers to Your Questions
- The Guidance Office
- The College and Career Center
- College Nights at the high school
- College tours and visits
- College students and alums