I remember my mom taking me to visit our local library as a junior in high school. She walked me over to the reference book section and pointed out the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings book. If you haven’t seen the book, it’s quite intimidating…almost as intimidating as dictionaries were when we still had to look things up the old-fashioned way! The rankings report on every college in the United States and rank them (surprised?) according to academic caliber, value for education, attrition rate, student life satisfaction…the list goes on and on! Out of the thousands of post-secondary education facilities in the United States how on Earth was I to pick the right one for me? As tempting as it was, flipping open to a random page and blindly finger-jabbing was not an option. Five years later, I could not be happier with the college I found myself at (Nazareth just in case that needs to be clarified…) and as the senior, junior, and sophomore college hopefuls out there begin the intimidating, frustrating, exciting, and most of all stressful processes of attempting to choose a college, I suggest you follow these 8 simple rules.
1. Think about what kind of college you want to go to. So your mom wants you to go to her alma mater and your father wants you to go to an all girl’s school and your cousin wants you to move out to California to live with him but what kind of school do you want to go to? Take some time and think about what your ideal college experience would look like…Okay so now that you’ve imagined yourself as Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect think about what your realistic but yet still ideal college experience would look like. Big school or small? In-state or out of state? Are you commuting or living on campus? This is the easiest way to narrow down that list. Want to live at home? Only look at schools within a 20 mile radius. Want to experience city life or the sleepy-suburbia America is known and loved for? Want to remain anonymous in giant-lecture halls or be forced to participate in small, intimate classes? It’s easier to think of what you don’t want in a school and cross those ones of the list. At this point in my search, I had decided I wanted to go to a small, urban college at least 50 miles from where I grew up but no more than an 8 hour drive away (a small enough distance so that I could make it on my own in one go.) College Board offers a really awesome resource called Big Future that includes ton of information about schools, allows you to compare schools side by side as well as financial aid resources, advice for choosing a major, the list goes on and on.
2. Majors! So obviously this is the most important part of picking a college. I am one of the lucky people who knew what they wanted to do right out of high-school. I looked at my list of small, urban colleges within an 8-hour drive and crossed of any that didn’t offer physical therapy and ended up a significantly more manageable list. If you don’t know exactly what your want to do with your life at 18, don’t worry! It’s crazy to expect someone to! What are you interested in? What do you see yourself doing in ten years, at 28? Look at colleges that are strong in these programs. If your interested in the sciences, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest choosing a school that’s known for its arts programs. Furthermore, you want there to be plenty of choice in the area you’re interested in. Let’s say you are interested in pursuing music but aren’t exactly sure how; does the school offer a variety of options in their music department? Finally, how does a college help its students who are undeclared? Here at Naz we have a program called GEM or Guided Exploration of Majors: a customizable program that includes experiential learning components, career prep classes, and meeting with a career counselor.
3. What experiences do you want to define your college career? When I looked at colleges I knew I wanted to study abroad, participate in the school’s music program and honors program all while being a physical therapy student. A lot of colleges told me that I wouldn’t have time to study abroad as a physical therapy major or that only music majors were allowed to participate in a college’s music program. At Naz, the director of the band was ecstatic when he found out I was an oboist and couldn’t wait for me to start. Check! When I talked to a member of the physical therapy department, they assured me studying abroad fit very well into Nazareth’s program. Check! The director of the honors program bent over backwards to make sure I would be able to participate in the honors program as a physical therapy major. Check! Pick a few things that are really, really important to you and make sure that you’ll be able to do them in college. College should be whatever you want it to be and you should be able to pursue your passions regardless of your major.
4. Visit! A college can sound great on paper but every college has its own unique atmosphere and culture. There were a few colleges I was convinced would be the perfect place for me but as soon as I visited I knew I would not fit in there. Likewise, I didn’t really like the sound of Naz but as soon as I stepped on campus I could see myself spending the next six years of my life there. I cannot stress how important it is to visit EVERY campus you’re interested in.
5. Interact with students. Student ambassadors are great; I mean really great, like we’re totally awesome. But! it’s important to interact with students in their natural environment. Can you sit in on a class? Can you participate in a musical studio? Go to a lecture on campus? Hang out at the college coffee shop? Spend an overnight with a sport’s team? A college’s culture is so important! Do you see yourself on this campus? Does it feel like home? Because it should; college will be your home for the next four plus years.
6. Follow your gut. There’s a lot to be said for gut instincts. Sometimes a college doesn’t stack up as well on paper compared to the other colleges you’re looking at but it just feels right. My mom always told me picking a college was like picking a husband: when you find the right one you’ll just know. Nothing could be truer when it comes to choosing a school. You’ll just know. You’ll get that warm fluttering feeling in your stomach when you think about it. You’ll start imagining yourself spending all your time there. You’ll start making plans for your future together. You’ll start wearing nothing but that college’s clothes and talking about nothing but that college. You’ll just know.
7. Visit again!! Go a second time. Go a third time. So at this point in the game you’ve ruled out the colleges that were definitely out, the ones where you stepped on campus and they were definitely not for you but your list is still made up of a handful (or more) of colleges you could definitely see yourself at. Visit again! Do you have the same experience the second time? Sometimes when you’ve visited a lot of colleges they all start to run together and visiting a second time helps you remember specifics about a school.
8. Do the coin toss test. It’s April of your senior year and you’ve gotten in to all the school’s you’ve applied to (yay you!) but you just can’t seem to decide between two schools. They both fulfill all of your wildest hopes and dreams for what your college career should be; do the coin toss test. Say that heads of a coin is school A and tails is school B then say to yourself that if the coin is heads you’ll go to school A and if the coin is tails you’ll go to school B. After you flip the coin you’ll find yourself hoping it lands on one side or another. That’s the school for you! Send in your deposit; you are on your way!!
Of course, these rules are not meant to be the definitive guide to choosing a school nor will they work for everyone. This most important rule in choosing a college is just do you. It’s your college career and it should be what you want it to be. Finally, have fun! Choosing a college is an exciting time! Take advantage of this opportunity to visit cities you wouldn’t have otherwise gone to; go to sporting events; go to concerts; go to lectures; meet new people; make new friends. Get a little taste for college life before you even start.
Still feeling intimidated? Here’s my advice for how to get the most advice out of your visit to campus.