Choosing the right college for you is one of the most important decisions of your life. Whatever college you choose, it’s where you’ll spend most of the next four years of your life, where you’ll get your professional formation, and where you’ll meet what could potentially be people you’ll know and remember for the rest of your life. This is why it’s important you make the right decision for you.
For me personally, geographical location and major offerings were deciding factors. I wanted an east coast school, and a school that offered a good journalism program, but I did take other factors into consideration when it came time to do my search: like being close to family, and the size of the campus.
Here are four tips I learned along the way:
1. Find the right resources
Did you know that the U.S. has approximately 4,000 universities and colleges? Each one of them unique, with different things to offer. Navigating this ocean of institutions can be difficult, but with the right tools, you might just find yourself narrowing down your options to what really works for you. The College Board is a great place to start. With their Big Future Tool, you can search for colleges based on majors, location, and other key factors. You can also answer questions about your preferences and values, and then get advice from advisors. Another great resource is your high school guidance office but don't forget you should never be afraid to reach out to admissions counselors at colleges that interest you (you can reach UMass Amherst counselors by emailing them).
2. If you want, take ranking into consideration (but don’t let it be the deciding factor)
College and university rankings can matter for a lot of people, and not without reason. Knowing which institutions will offer a good quality of student life is important. College ranking websites use student feedback as one of their tools to determine different rankings, so rankings can reflect what the student body thinks about a college. That being said, it’s also important to remember that not every student takes every survey, so my advice is to take them with a grain of salt. You may find a school that doesn’t show up on the rankings but is the perfect fit for you. Ultimately, finding the school that is the right fit for you will help you be the most successful in college.
3. Think about your priorities
One question I asked myself over and over again was "What did I want in my college experience?". Some questions you might want to think over:
- Do you want to be close to your family, or do you want something further away?
- If you have a major in mind, are you looking for a college with a good program in that field?
- Is the cost of college important to you? If yes, are you looking somewhere affordable, or with a strong financial aid package?
- Are you looking for a big college, or do you want a smaller one?
- What do they offer outside of the classroom that you are interested in? Research, internships, clubs, sports?
These are some helpful questions you can ask yourself and finding the answers to those can really help in the process.
4. If you don’t like the first college you chose, your choice doesn’t have to be permanent (but give it a chance first!)
Adjusting to a new place, however close or far from home it may be, is always hard. Some people transition smoothly, and others not so much. If you’re in the latter group, there are ways you can make the process easier. Try to find counseling services to help you adjust, find clubs and organizations that fit your interests, and try to actually give it a chance.
But, if after one or two semesters you really, truly feel that your college is not the right place for you, consider transferring to a new one. Sometimes what looks perfect on paper turns out to translate not so well to reality. And you know what? It’s okay. Your college years are supposed to be a period where you learn and grow into the person you want to be in the future; and being happy where you are should be high on the priority list. If where you are is not offering the chance to do that, transferring to another college is always an option — just don’t take it lightly.
In the end, finding a college requires some soul-searching. But it’s important that you think about what you want, because it’s a decision made by you, and for you. The college you choose, and the experience you get out of it, is yours and yours only. And remember, the most important thing is that you’re happy with your decision.