Choosing a College: A Simple Guide for Undergraduates

Choosing a College: A Simple Guide for Undergraduates

Deciding where to attend a college is an extremely important decision. Not only does it affect the next 4 years of a student’s life, it also plays a major role in their career. This article will help students and their families pick the right college by highlighting some of the most important factors to consider.

Near or Far From Home

Moving from high school to college is a major social change. For most students, it’s the first time they are separated from family and friends and live entirely on their own. The impact of this change can vary greatly, depending on how far away from home they go to college.

For some students, leaving home to attend a distant college is a great experience. It allows them to join a new community independently. These students are forced to make many new friends and quickly adapt to their new environment. Students who attend college closer to home are more likely to retain the same social circle and a closer approximation of their old lives.

The downside of going to college far from home is that you leave behind the comfort and support of your family and friends. For those who aren’t up to building a new social life from scratch, or who feel frightened in new and strange environments, going to college far from home can lead to homesickness and a bad experience.

In the end, it all depends on the preferences of the student and his or her family. Would you feel comfortable being by yourself in a strange environment? Do you see college as an exciting chance to have new experiences? How much do you depend on your family for emotional support?

Of course, there is no right decision. There are many compromises between staying in your home town and moving cross country. Think about how much you value new experiences versus how much you need to be near home when making this decision.

Large or Small School

Another area that’s important to consider is the difference between large universities and small colleges. There are pros and cons to each.

Some of the benefits of large schools include:

  • A large and robust social community
  • Greater diversity of people to meet and interact with
  • Larger scale campus activities (sports, student groups, etc)
  • More areas of study to choose from

Some of the benefits of small schools include:

  • More tightly knit community
  • Closer interaction with professors and fellow students
  • More group familiarity (everyone knows everyone)
  • More focused academic programs

Many of these areas can be good or bad, depending on the preferences of the student. Some students prefer small colleges where they can know most of the other students and gain a certain level of trust and familiarity. Other students see this as a negative and get bored interacting the same small group for 4 years.

Cost and Affordability

Attending college is a major investment. With tuition for 4 years well above $100,000 at many top universities, cost is not something that should be taken lightly. How cost impacts a student’s decisions depends on the financial position of the student and his or her family. If the student’s family is able to comfortably pay for college, and is happy to do so, then the price of tuition might not be the biggest factor in the decision.

On the other hand, if the student is planning to pay for college themselves (by working or taking on students loans) cost becomes extremely important. Student debt is no small burden, and many students spend decades paying off their college loans.

Before taking out a major loan to pay for college, here are few things to consider:

  • Do you plan on pursuing a major that will help you earn a lot of money?
  • Are you comfortable being in debt for many years?
  • Will the benefits of one college out weigh the extra cost?

If the answers to any of these questions are no, the student should strongly consider a more affordable alternative. Everyone wants to attend the most prestigious school, but for many students it does not make economic sense.

Areas of Study

A final area to consider when choosing a college are the specific academic programs offered by each school. If the student already has a good idea of what they want to study, they should research these departments at each college. Quality of education can vary widely between different departments at the same school, so it’s important to gather specific information. Some schools might be excellent overall, but have poor programs in the area most important to you. Others might not have the most prestigious reputation, but have top notch programs for certain subjects.

For students that are undecided about their course of study, it’s more important to find a college that has a wide variety of offerings and overall high level of academics. This will allow the student a broad range of equally good choices.

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