College Shopping? 10 Important Things to Look for in a College

Andrew Garrison April 27th 2016 Education
When it comes to college shopping, don’t be afraid to brutal. Be completely honest with yourself about what you are looking for. What do you want your college experience to be? Do you want to become a biochemist, engineer, sociologist, philosopher, psychologist or businessman? Then X school might be the school for you. If you’re going in a completely different direction you may want school Y. No matter what you’re looking for, it’s essential to know the right questions ask. Feel free to use this list as a guideline in determining the right school for you.
1.The Academia
What kind of academics does the school offer, what type of school is it: public, private, technical, liberal arts? Many students choose a college based on the field of study they want to pursue. This may include humanities, the sciences, law, pre-med etc. From there they at least have a rough idea of what classes they’re interested in taking. Next, you have to find out which schools offer these desired programs.
Obviously what type of student you are (A’s, B’s, C’s) can already put your options in front of you as to what schools you could get accepted to. Now if you have the grades and are looking for a high academic experience, you may consider an “Ivy League” school like Harvard or a “Big Ten” like Michigan. Or if you make good grades but are looking for a school that’s closer to home, you could look for a state university. Regardless, in the college researching process, it’s always advantageous to look up school rankings and attend local college fairs. At a local fair you may even discover a school that wasn’t even on your radar. And who knows, you may even go there.
2.The Food
When you go to visit a school, one thing that tour guides usually highlight is the campus dining experience. This is where you get the inside scoop on what type of cuisine your prospective school offers. And while the level of food should not be the deciding factor, good or bad, it still plays a pivotal role. You will eat this food everyday and a portion of your overall tuition pays for it. That being said, most schools offer at least one dining hall and usually a couple other college eateries somewhere on campus. So you are definitely being provided for.
In addition, many students opt to cook their own food. Although dorms are usually limited only to the simplest appliances like microwaves and refrigerators. Schools generally offer “higher living” options to upperclassman which include on campus apartments or suites. These houses are usually equipped with a stove, oven, or the bare essentials to cooking a meal. So don’t dismay if you’re unsatisfied with the food in the cafeteria. In just a couple of years you could be making your own.
3.The Tuition
As of 2015, college tuitions are increasing annually nationwide. Which for many students makes tuition an issue. And while student loans have become the popular norm, sometimes they don’t even suffice. There are however, a few other ways to approach a school’s expense. Students can apply for national grants such as Pell Grants, Academic Competiveness Grants and National SMART Grants. You may also be able to find local scholarship opportunities through various civic and religious organizations.
Also, apply to as many schools as you can. The more schools you apply to, the more likely you are to get larger financial aid packages. And you aren’t necessarily limited to schools within the U.S. Many foreign colleges such as St. Andrews, located in Scotland, have less expensive tuitions than American schools. And if you find that you simply can’t afford a big school, you can always start at a community college or cut costs by commuting from home. As long as you have a concrete plan and a realistic means of paying for your schooling you don’t necessarily have to limit your options.
4.The Campus
The college campus itself is somewhere you will be spending a lot your time. So get acquainted with it, learn the ropes. Know all of the secret passage ways (you’d be surprised). And also get an in depth look at what the building look like from the inside as well as out. What do the classrooms look like, are they well equipped for all your technological needs? Is the health center accessible 24 hours a day?
And there are other things you may want to know as well. Such as, what the hours for the library like. Do non-athletes have full access to the athletic fields and courts? When the chapels are open? Go ahead and do some on campus scouting before you make your decision. In the event, that the campus itself is not that important and you are really after the academics and off-campus life, then you can focus your attention on other aspects. But remember, you’re making an initial commitment for four years so you better like where you’re waking up in the morning.
5.The People
What type of student body are we looking at here? Who are you going to be bumping into at the library after a late of studying? Now it could very well be that your perfect niche group of friends is waiting for you just around the corner. But don’t fall in love with people that aren’t there. If everyone in your school is an academic enthusiast and you’re not, it may not work. School visits and campus tours can allow you to a get a glimpse of campus life and as well as the students who inhabit it.
Now, never distress about meeting different people. It’s always good to expand your horizons. If we are all meant to be the same we would all look alike. With that being said, it can sometimes be counterproductive to hang out with people who you lack chemistry with. Definitely take a leap, but make sure it’s manageable. Don’t change who you are just to be accepted.
6.The Size
The sheer size of a college can be a key factor in making the inevitable decision of which school to attend. An average university has about 5,000-15,000 students. This is considered the middle size. Whereas a large size student body would consist of at least 15,000. And would be considered, “the hard to breathe in the hallway” size. On the opposite end, for those preferring a more intimate experience (modest class size, a more hands-on teaching experience) smaller schools can range from anywhere from 1,000-5,000 kids.
Generally students who prefer smaller schools want more access. Access to professors, campus staff, etc. A smaller school ensures more manageable classes where students can get greater individual attention from professors. And with less students to teach, professors can usually provide a wider curriculum suited to the needs of each student in the class. On the contrary, for students who prefer a larger scape, bigger schools can often offer more social options including campus events and Greek life. Larger schools can also get things on a more grandiose scale, such as bigger guest speakers and campus amenities.
7.The Feel/Energy
Something that often gets lost in the mix when it comes to college shopping is the “feel” of the school. The intangible qualities that you can’t simply quantify. Like what does it feel like when you set foot on campus? Other factors to consider include, how fast do things move on campus, is it at a breakneck speed or is it more relaxed? Do students only go to off campus parties or do they happen right in the dorms? Do I have to immediately fit in with a particular group or can I do my own thing?
At the end of the day, it is your decision. What does your guts tell you? What feels right? This is the type of thing that you will know when you see it. Even if one school seems absolutely perfect on paper, you have no idea if it’s a good fit until you actually visit. Which is why it is very important to attend events such as accepted students day and to visit the school as many times as possible before enrolling.
8. Housing
Unless you are commuting (like millions of students), when you go to college you have to live somewhere. And a question that almost every parent asks is “what do the dorms look like?” And as a student this is important for you to. There are some things you need to know. How many kids are on my floor? Where are the washer and dryer, are the rooms air conditioned? Do the rooms connect directly to the dining hall?
Aside from dorms, most schools do provide additional on campus housing options for upperclassman. These include onsite apartments and houses. And if you are really ambitious you can get an off campus apartment. When evaluating a school’s housing, also make sure that their facilities are up-to-date. You would not want to put down a deposit on a room that was built in 1902, unless you really have a thing for classic architecture. It’s also good to avoid housing that draws a striking resemblance to the janitors shed.
9. Sports and Clubs
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, students prefer that college funds be used for athletics and student programming. Which could make this particular area of a given school competitive in a number ways. So before making that big decision find out what sports each school offers and what clubs are available on campus. Especially if you’re looking to play a college sport. You never know, they may offer rugby or have a nationally ranked curling team. Just make sure they have the right clubs and sports to suit your needs.
Sometimes playing some club soccer or Frisbee is a great way to unwind after hours of studying. And other clubs can provide intriguing benefits as well. For instance you can do a lot of networking through a club where you share common interests. So the bonding might come through jazz club, T.V. club or the disciples of Bieber club. You never know until you ask that campus tour guide. Bottom line, clubs are important.
10. Location
In what part of the country or world is your school? The South, Midwest, Europe? While some kids may want to stick to what they know, if they’re from the east coast they may want to stay on the east coast or vice versa with students coming from the west. Some however, may be intrigued by the possibility of a change of pace. And in that case a school in Hawaii or Australia could carry a lot of appeal. So don’t be afraid of widening your range of where the school is geographically.
When researching locations, kids often look for schools in places that fall in one of three categories. Either the school is far from home (multiple hours away), making it next to impossible to come outside of holidays and vacations. Its right in your backyard, for easy access at all times. Or it’s somewhere in between. Find out where your comfort lies before flying coop and you will be less likely to regret your decision later. Remember, Siberia is a long way from home.

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