For many high school seniors, spring semester is dominated by one thought above all else: college. While the final semester can be academically tough, especially considering the run-up to finals, or to AP or IB exams, the soon-to-be college student also has to start seriously considering which of the colleges he has applied to is right for him. Choosing the right college involves many factors, and it can take a lot of careful consideration to make that determination, but it’s a must for the future professional. Here are a few of the most important points for the college hopeful to keep in mind.
In a very general sense, there are two kinds of universities: those that are geared towards the humanities and social sciences, and those that lean heavily towards hard sciences, mathematics and engineering. Depending on your interests, you may have a prospective college list full of liberal arts schools or full of technical institutes. However, this isn’t where the differences end. Every college and university has its own unique layout of academic programs. Some schools are known for having a well-rounded array of programs, while others may just be renowned for a single department that stands head and shoulders above all its others.
When choosing the right college for you, you should also try to keep in mind what you plan on doing after you’ve gotten your bachelor’s degree. You might have targeted schools with excellent pre-law, pre-med, biology or math programs: all of these degrees are extremely useful and, depending on the program, prerequisites for obtaining the relevant advanced degree.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do with your life straight out of high school, and indeed, most people don’t. If you enter college wanting to become a teacher and end up craving a career in law, it’s always possible to switch tracks, especially if the requirements for the program to which you’re transferring overlap with those of your old program.
Some colleges are situated smack in the center of major cities. Some are located in the sleepy suburbs of cities and towns. And some lay sprawling in the middle of the countryside. Each of these types of college is extremely well-represented in the US, and no matter what sort of field you’re interested in (except for agriculture, which requires large tracts of land to effectively teach) there’s a good chance that you’ll have your pick when it comes to your surroundings.
Different kinds of campuses offer different benefits. Urban campuses give students easy access to the resources of the entire city. For students who plan on moving off-campus but still wish to live close to college in their sophomore or junior years, this is a big plus. More importantly, students attending college in the city will have an easier time working as an intern during the academic year.
Suburban and rural campuses also have their share of benefits. They tend to offer a quieter and more peaceful atmosphere than city campuses and lack some of the distractions common to an urban environment (although if you’re attending a party school, this might not be the case.) They also give students much more room to themselves. While most urban college campuses are well-defined and delineated against their surrounding cities, they still receive a high level of non-student traffic. This aspect of suburban and rural campuses could be a pro or a con, however, depending on your attitude. And remember that no matter what sort of campus you’re living on, you’ll be able to have an active social life, even if you’re studying at a school in the middle of the countryside.
3) Name recognition
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Georgetown. Some universities have worldwide prestige and name recognition. If you have a shot at attending one of these few schools, some great opportunities will open up to you. However, these universities aren’t necessarily for every student – even those who have the grades and scores to qualify.
There are two real benefits that big-name schools offer. One is the aforementioned name recognition. After graduating, you will almost certainly find it easier to get interviews if you have a degree from a top university on your resume. The second, and more important, benefit is the increased ability to make good connections. Top schools have alumni who are often the best in their fields, and they tend to contribute more money to their alma maters and participate more in alumni associations. Much of the faculty at top universities will also have large networks, which you can take advantage of if you build good relationships with your professors.
However, state universities and smaller private schools both have their benefits as well. When considering which college you should attend, don’t pay as much attention to the name of the school as to the quality of its programs. Some of the state universities and second-tier schools have certain fields in which they excel, and attending one of these might be a better option depending on your circumstances and interests.
The greatest downside of attending a top university might be that, unless you’re a truly excellent, one-of-a-kind student, you probably won’t be receiving any aid from the school. These colleges typically do not have to entice potential students with attractive scholarships or grants, since they are so often the top choices of the students themselves. While these schools certainly will accept excellent students from middle- and low-income families, and many of those accepted do attend, cost is still an issue.
When considering the colleges available to you, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each. If you’re planning on studying public policy and you’re accepted by Georgetown or Princeton, the high cost of those schools may very well be justified by their opportunities for making contacts and the quality of their public policy programs. However, if you’re planning on studying a subject that your state’s primary public university excels in teaching, the public school may be a better choice, especially when considering that public in-state tuition is much lower than a private university’s regular tuition. Second-tier schools also usually have their areas of strength, and they will often offer potential students scholarships that the top schools won’t.
Before you make your final decision, be sure that you’ve done all your homework on each college’s strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, know what it is that you want out of college. If you can answer that question, it should be easy to determine your best fit.